We had another tournament this weekend, a small one, but my expectations could not have been lower. For one thing, half the tournament team was out due to their first communion festivities, I got a phone call from the mother of my best second-team player that he was sick the night before, and then when we showed up, one of my tournament team substitutes and my second-best second-team player were both missing.
It was so bad that we only had four players, we didn’t have the requisite five needed to take the field without a certain little boy too young to even be on the team. However, he was fortuitously sporting the correct jersey and shorts, so we could at least participate even if we were going to lose badly. Given that the pro team was going to be there, a team that promised to be tough even if we had everyone, to say that I was not optimistic would have been an understatement. I even warned all of the parent’s accordingly, especially the father of one six-year old who has a tendency to forget what’s going on and likes to lie down in the grass and start playing with it.
But we did have our goalie and our best defender, plus a solid midfielder, so I figured we could keep our losses to the 5-1 neighborhood. But the two little ones were, surprisingly, not completely ineffective, and the score was 1-1 in the first game when the two missing players turned up. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to explain anything to the second-team player and we blew several good opportunities so the game ended up 2-2.
We started off badly in the second game, giving up a horrible goal when both defenders and the midfielder closed on an attacker, leaving the area in front of goal wide open. The attacker made the pass and we were down. However, we struck back quickly as the midfielder, a big kid who is relatively new to our team and the idea that passing the ball is our priority, suddenly realized that he was attracting three defenders himself and started to pass to the kid who’s usually a sub. We scored three times that way and I was able to use the two little ones to give the older kids a rest. The game ended 3-1, which meant that we already had one more win than I’d hoped.
I’m not sure what happened in the third game. The second-team kid is a tall, gangly boy who isn’t entirely in control of his long legs and arms, and although I’ve tried to explain our basic concepts to him before, he never seemed to get it. But something seemed to click at just the right time and he was in the right space every single time we went on the attack. He ended up scoring four goals that game, and incredibly, one was from the clueless six-year old who, in imitation of the midfielder, brought the ball down the sideline, drew the defender and sent a hard, fast pass right across the face of goal. The tall kid finished flawlessly and I thought the look on the face of the six-year old’s father was the perfect mix of utter shock and pride.
It seemed we’d somehow found ourselves in a position to win the tournament, which was based on points, if we could manage to defeat the pro team. We had seven points, they had nine, so only a win would do. Normally I’d like the odds with our best against their best, but even with the confidence-inspiring run we were on, it was hard to be optimistic about our chances. But the kids put the pressure on them right away and while the other team was perfectly disciplined as always, they seemed to mistake our more fluid approach for indiscipline. They play in a square formation, while we don’t have a proper formation but focus on running to open space and always getting someone into “the hole” in front of goal on the attack while never abandoning it completely on defense.
I’d encouraged the kid who is usually a substitute to get more aggressive and after he won a corner for us, he managed to put it in the net. That seemed to shock them and after the midfielder hammered home a shot from long range, they fell apart completely. The two little ones not only got in after the third goal, but we actually managed to outscore them while they were in there. The littlest one had almost no clue what was going on, as usual, but he’s well-trained as to what to do when our defenders both move to the side – he rushed back to cover “the hole” – so even though he lost track of what was going on, when the centering pass came, it hit him in the back of the legs and shut down their attack. His teammates, of course, made much of him for that.
We ended up winning the game 4-0 and the tournament with ten points. The kids were all celebrating like maniacs while the parents and I just stood there and looked at each other in disbelief.
It was a very good day.