New on SocTakes: Off the Bench: 1st game

1st gameBack in October, I wrote a brief post on signing up for a rec league to play organized soccer for the first time in my life. I actually registered back in late September and wrote that piece a few weeks later. Due to the torrential rain that plagued North Texas from August onward, summer season games kept getting postponed and rescheduled, and I only received my game schedule a week into November, with a planned start date of Nov. 18.

Well, that ended up not happening due to delays getting the team of free agents assembled, and the game was postponed to later in the season. Even after an extra week, we just barely met the league roster requirements and by our first game had one goalkeeper and three women, with another six male field players. It’s a starting seven with subs for the guys, and that’s it.

We set up a group chat ahead of our first game on Saturday, Nov. 24 with some brief introductions, uniform decisions (i.e., “wear a black shirt but also bring a white one and we’ll decide on gameday”) and a request to meet 15 minutes before the game. I showed up there to meet my teammates for the first time, the Co-Ed Free Agents.

I don’t know for certain, but I’m likely the youngest on the team by a year or so. I’m also the least experienced, but that’s a given. I made an effort to not reveal just how completely inexperienced I was knowing that it would become obvious by the end of the day.

Our opponent was the Fort Worth Police Department’s co-ed team, known as the Panthers. They lost their first game 6-2, giving us a not-terrible chance. By kickoff, only two of the three women on our roster had arrived, so we made a deal with the other team and the referee to play only five field players with both women on the field.

The whistle blew, and my first game began.

That is, with me on the bench. I wasn’t starting, and I was honestly pretty happy about that. For the first 10 minutes of the 25-minute first half, I sat by and watched my hastily assembled team score our opening goal of the season to take a nice early lead. Our goalkeeper, Hugo, put in some fantastic work to keep us in it, as it turned out that the Fort Worth cops weren’t half bad at soccer. After that first 10, one of my teammates signaled for a substitute and my first shift began.

I slotted in at right wing, the one position I played in a few pickup games back when I lived in Arkansas. First time on the field in cleats, what a feeling. For the first part of my shift, I focused on chasing down any errant balls, putting my not-terrible sprinting ability to use and dropping back to defend as necessary. I didn’t take many passes but that honestly didn’t matter, and I was more than happy to run myself ragged. I lasted a little over five minutes, which wasn’t bad for the most physical exertion I’d felt since my last Pump it Up session.  My “best” moment that shift was going full sprint the entire length of the field to chase down a ball close to the opponent’s goal. About two yards from the goal line, I lost my footing and fell face forward.

I subbed out with the score still 1-0. It didn’t last. The Panthers scored once not long after I exited, leaving things tied 1-1 at halftime. My throat was painfully dry thanks to my excessive mouth-breathing and I spent the rest of the half chugging down water.

We lined up for the second half with all three of the women on our team now present, playing six field players for the first time. I was starting, taking my spot at right wing once again. Early in the second half, I had one moment out wide right where I had a chance to cross into the box to an open forward. I mishit the pass (rookie mistake, I know) and one of their defenders easily intercepted. Oh, well. I lasted slightly longer on the field this time, and was much more comfortable dropping back to defend to give us three at the back against a counter. However, I did have one seriously bad stretch wherein I was marking another winger pushing forward, sprinted toward the corner to defend against a counter and left a forward completely wide open at the near post. Suddenly, we were down by one.

At that point, I was definitely feeling not fantastic and subbed out. While I was on the bench, my team scored to even things up at 2-2. After a few minutes of back-and-forth play, one of my teammates was ready to come off and I hopped off the bench with roughly 15 minutes left in the second half for my third shift. For this final shift, we were dealing with sustained pressure thanks to their team having much fresher legs and I found myself generally playing right back. I managed to marginally improve my defensive thinking, but I really only had about seven minutes left in me. With a little less than 10 minutes left, I subbed off for the final time.

The Panthers scored to take a 3-2 lead late in the game, and despite our best attacking efforts we couldn’t find another equalizer and the result held. Honestly, though, we played better than expected for a last-minute, hastily assembled roster that first met roughly an hour earlier.

As for me, I learned that I’m not nearly as in shape as I thought, but my knees and ankles managed to hold up for the most part. I packed up my gear and headed back home with one week until next game.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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