52 weeks ago, Leg A-Z played in the State Cup Final and lost 6-0. Reaching the final is an accomplishment of no small signficance which makes the opportunity to win such a game that much more precious, and to lose it so badly, all the more devastating. Losing 6-0 resonates much differently that a one goal or shootout loss, where you can endlessly replay moments of the game that could have turned the result. It is an endlessly hollow, hazy recollection of an event that feels more like something you witnessed than actually participated in, and that’s undoubtedly a defense mechanism to distance one’s recollection from the reality of such a profound failure.
Bryson joined the team in December, scarred not by the 6-0 Final’s loss, but by having served half a season in something resembling soccer hell. The culture of his former team was an odd mix of detached, dispassionate coaching and tactical/sporting indiscipline that wore on his passion for the game, and my will to live.
Leg A-Z is different. It is a small club in Gainesville, Florida coached by Darnell Bernier. Darnell cares about his craft, this team and having lost the State Cup Final 6-0. The nucleus of the team is from Gainesville and Ocala, but we travel from Orlando, our goalie from Stuart, a midfielder from Spring Hill and our striker from Fort Walton Beach. Bryson now plays with 5 of his state of Florida ODP teammates, who have traveled across the country and to Europe together.
The team showed well at the Disney Showcase in December placing third in their flight, and rolled through the Weston Cup in February winning all five games, but it has been clear throughout that the State Cup was the prize.
Our opening game was in Tallahasse against the Gulf Coast Texans. Our striker, Nelson Hunsinger, used to play for the Texans, and scored our first two goals in a comfortable 5-1 romp.
Our final two games of group play were in Miami the following weekend. We beat Lakeland FC 2-0 to advance to the sweet 16, but lost to Coral Gables 0-1 in our final group game assuring that we would be a second seed from the group. The Coral Gables game was distressing. We conceded a soft goal midway through the first half, and struggled to generate any meaningful chances. It seemed to suggest a blueprint for beating us, and asked questions of our capacity to play from behind.
Our sweet 16 game was against IMG, who won a difficult group. IMG was physical and took the game to us for much of the day, but could not score despite hitting the crossbar well into the second half. As regulation time would down, it was evident that this would be a one goal game, and may end in a penalty shoot out, but with 7 minutes left, Trey Jackson struck a wonderful dipping free kick that baffled the IMG keeper before hitting the post and finding the back of the net. On the whole, we were probably on the back foot more than the front foot, and it felt like an escape. The following day, we beat overmatched Ponte Vedra 3-1 to reach the final four.
In the semifinal, we played Plantation FC. We kicked off, but seemed unusually shaky through a series of back passes before turning the ball over for a goal. Plantation led 1-0 45 seconds into the match, and it seemed possible another 6-0 disaster could be underway. We wobbled about for the next ten minutes before finding our footing. Chris Fregley put away a cross to the tie the game, and a few minutes later Daniel Wear earned a penalty that was converted by TC Anderson for a 2-1 advantage. We were denied a penalty a few minutes later, but led 2-1 at the half and had established control over the game. Midway through the half, Trey Jackson found Wear on a free kick for our third unanswered goal. Plantation pulled a goal back with about ten minutes to play, but Jackson responded with a volley making it 4-2.
Back to the final, and the weight of last year’s failure reached critical mass. From the opening minute, this match against FKK had the feel of a tight, tactical game that would be decided by a mistake. Both teams were well-versed in each other’s strengths, and the first 80 minutes produced very little in the way of clear chances. With extra time seeming increasingly likely, the decisive mistake came. A misplayed ball in the back sent Daniel Wear through and he slid the ball inside the far post.
Jubilation, ten minutes of defending, and more definitive jubilation followed.
Leg A-Z is Florida State Cup Champions!
I did not play any minutes, assist or score any goals, but I am so happy and proud. I am obviously proud of my son for his contribution to the success of the team, but very much for the whole group.
I do not generally emote very well particularly when the emotion requires more than four letter words so for me there is always a bit of awkwardness to balancing the celebration with my feelings. I was compelled to seek out Darnell after the podium ceremony. He had taken several pictures and was sitting in the grass a few feet away from anyone else. I approached and shook his hand thanking him for his work with Bryson and this team. He responded politely and then looking out into the distance said more to himself than to me, “it’s been a long journey.” Though I had only been a peripheral part of the journey for a few months, it is a credit to his sincerity and transparency that in that moment it felt I had been along for much longer.