Since the start of the last school year till Sunday, soccer has been a pillar of normality for Evan (and me). Practice on Monday and Wednesday evenings with his best friends, and blow-out victories on weekend matches became a part of the weekly schedule. The club managed their Covid protocol well and we never felt or were given a reason to worry.
Evan grew as a player and a team mate and felt he was recognized as a cornerstone of his team – calmly stopping most offensive attacks long before they got to his goalkeeper. Weekend after weekend they usually shut out their opponents and scored at least five goals. After a lead of six or seven, our coach usually instituted a policy of three unbroken passes before taking a goal shot which slowed their scoring down. But by the end of this season, the problem was winning. There was too much of it. They hadn’t lost a game. The last time Evan played club soccer was the 2018-19 year (he missed the 2019-20 year due to travel). Between the last two years that Evan played, he lost one game – the finals of the tournament at the end of the 2018-19 year. There is much to learn from losing a soccer match: congratulate your opponents, admit to yourself that they played a better game, then get back up, learn from it, and move on. I felt one loss over two years really wasn’t enough.
So a few parents and I convinced the club to extend our season by playing against harder teams from higher level leagues. They obliged and the team played four very good teams over the last two weekends. These boys were bigger, faster, had better ball control, and played a more strategic game. Our team rose to the challenge and beat two of these teams. They also had their first two losses of the season handed to them. The last one stung a bit. After being up 2-1, they lost the match 2-5, with the last goal being scored as the whistle blew. Oh the indignity.
After the game I hung back and walked behind the boys on the longish walk from the pitch to the car park. One poor kid was openly sobbing. Another was just holding it together. But most were doing great – pranking each other and laughing and joking. Then I heard it. “I bet they bribed the referee”. “They had to have”. “He made horrible calls”. “He was really bad or blind”. “I can’t believe he called that hand ball on us”. “I can’t believe he didn’t call that hand ball on them”.
It went on. From one kid it spread like a cancer to a few others. When we got to the car and we started driving back, I asked Evan how he was. “It was a great game. I really had to run for a change. I’m hungry – what should we eat?”
I breathed a sigh of relief. He finally had a couple of losses. And Evan hadn’t resorted to fables or conspiracy theories to convince himself that he had actually won when he had plainly lost. It was the cherry on top of a fantastic year of soccer. But what the devil are we going to do with our weekends now? Besides making fun of losers….