Wednesday, December 19, 2007

945 rallies!

Pictured: William, 44, Amadeus, 19, Junior, 16, Tony Kelly celebrating (see article)

13 players crowded the bench to fill only six spots on the field at the Charlotte Sports Connection on Wednesday night.

First timers Jesse and Nassir had not played competative soccer since they were in high school. For Jesse that was 23 years ago. For Nassir it was 20. They would have to shake off a combined 53 years of rustiness quickly if they were going to make an impact on the match. William, 44, alone had 44 years of soccer inaction to contribute to the match. William was galvanized after his first practice two weeks ago and had been anticipating this his second game all week. William is a calm man with stern mien which belies a warm, gregarious personality. While 16 year old Junior McGregor, or 19 year old Amadeus don’t look like what we typically think of when we think “homeless,” William might come closer in appearance to one’s expectations. Originally from South Carolina, William has worked hard all his life. He is a private man, humble and friendly. He is the type you meet and think, wow, there is a story there. I hope I earn his trust enough to hear it.

In contrast to the previous night with the Street Soccer Starts, Wednesday’s squad arrived early, warmed up, and had time to meet as a team to talk pre-game strategy. Coaches Cann, neither in uniform, combined brains to come up with a successful new strategy. The major move was to play with a sweeper instead of two backs. Craig Holley’s improved skills combined with his speeed and hustle and natural defensive instinct inspired the thought. We explained Craig his role just minutes before the game, but it proved to be a natural fit and Craig was a standout all match, showcasing his athleticism and ability to read the play.

In front of Craig we played Two midfielders, Tony Kelly and Junior McGregor. Junior we hoped could be the link in the middle of the field to our forward pair, Pop and Dwayne. Tim who missed Tuesday because of his recovery house meeting was in the net. The first goal we gave up would prove costly. Excellent defenisve organization had kept the score level until Tim muffed a low shot to the near post. It was keeper error that Tim would later atone for. Craig’s only mistake of the game proved costly as well. He made a great dribble move in the middle of the field. When he found no teammtates readily available he made poor pass which resulted in a breakaway. 2-0. Dwayne who showed great leadership and hustle as he showed signs of improved fitness, pulled a goal back, taking a pass from Junior, fooling a defender and suprising the goalie with low powerful blast. Despite excellence defenisve communication and competant role playing of our substitutions, we tired towards the end of the half, yeilding two more goals. 4-1 was the score at the half.

Two things were clear. Craig had found his natural position and we were playing too much defense as a team. At half time we made it clear that we need to leave Craig back to defend and to attack with all four of the remaining players. That way we would keep the ball in the offensive end. Likewise we needed to defend with four, but we must leave one of the forwards up to keep us dangerous. To their credit, the team listened and responded. We kept the ball in the attack and gave up no goals in the second half. Dwayne and Tony each added to our tally to bring us within one goal. Pop came tantalizinly close and Junior missed several chances. Just as we seemed about to score, our opponents turned a quick counter attack. William had come on and found himself all alone facing two attackers and a lofted ball coming his way. William bravely stepped up to the ball which his chest and then the opponents hand. What looked like a clear break and perhaps goal ended up as a free kick for the good guys.

The crowd began cheering as we kept pressing for a tying goal. Finally Tony Kelly made some magic happen. He was called for a foul and turned to run back up the field on defense. The other team made a quick restart, one defender touching the ball to over to the other. Tony sensed this and made a lighning about face turn. Relaxing with their heads down, believing Tony was retreating, the other team was slow to move to the ball. Tony got there first, and with one touch to his left foot he fired a second touch shot past the keepr who was also asleep on the play. Before we all realized what happened, the score was level. Perhaps a bigger distraction than the euphoria of the tie score was Tony’s bizarre celebration. He jumped into a squat and did a self invented dance that was a strange as it was hilarious. He deserved the celebration. The score stayed levelafter that despite our push for a winning goal.

Debbie, a yoga instructor who volunteers at the center, was there watching our game while she waited for her son’s team to play. Her son is a hig school senior who organized a drive amongst his fellow players to supply our team with outdoor cleats last year. Debbie said she was watching the game and got very excited cheering for our comback. Then she thought Tony looked familiar. But where do I know him from. They she said, I put it together. I looked on the sideline and there you were, Lawrence and Rob, and I said, oh, it’s the homeless team. I elbowed my hustband and said, It’s the homeless team! Wow, they are really good.

Many congrats to the 13 players, 12 of whom got in the game, for their well deserved tie, and inspiring performance.

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