Not QUITE past it

While the team is doing great, my season has been a little more down than up. This year is the first time I’ve felt too old at times in practice and I’ve been running out of breath and energy much faster than I think I should. I suspect, however, that it is mostly the unusually cold weather we’ve been having combined with a lack of pre-season stretching and being overweight.

The most recent practice went very well at times. I scored three of my sides seven goals and actually managed to beat a good midfielder off the dribble without using either my speed or strength for the first time in about six years. He was so badly faked-out that he actually spun halfway around and fell down, which inspired no little mocking. I was running out of energy too fast, but I was optimistic that I’d play well in the upcoming game, especially when it became clear that instead of starting up front, I’d play the second half on the wing.

We were up 4-1 when I came in, so the captain told me to hang back and help out our right defender, who normally plays midfield. We were under heavy pressure on that side from two of the other team’s three best players, but despite being overmatched, we managed to keep them from any dangerous chances, although it was repeatedly a close-run thing. Generally, they’d tika-taka past me as if I wasn’t even there, then the defender would slow them down enough for me to get back and help close out the attacker before he could shoot, and they’d either lose the ball to us, put it out for a goal kick, or be forced to pass it back to the middle or the far side. Somehow, we managed to avoid giving up a single corner; I’m not entirely sure how considering how under pressure we felt.

I managed to beat the defender on the right once, but then sent over a horrendous cross that hooked; fortunately it went to our center-mid and we somehow ended up with a corner out of it. The center-mid then promptly headed in the corner, which we thought would suffice to finish off the game. 5-1.

The problem was that our staunch and speedy right defender got hurt on a slide tackle and his substitute, though game, is the only player on the team older than I am. He’s even less technical than I am, so we were pretty seriously overmatched, and the attacker who’d been pressuring us all game blew right by him about 10 seconds after he came in and scored. I couldn’t help, because I’d been forward for our corner kick at the time. 5-2.

That encouraged them to attack hard on the left side, and I got completely beaten, didn’t get back in time, and the attacker sent over a nice ground cross that was promptly buried in the net. That made it 5-3 and they were starting to think they might be able to make a game of it. They also knew that our right side was our weakest link. So, at that point, I quit even trying to go forward and didn’t try to cover their wing much either, I just doubled their attacker every time I didn’t have to break off him to attack the guy with the ball.

That frustrated some of my teammates, who didn’t realize that our defender simply couldn’t stop the guy by himself and that it was more important to shut the guy down than worry about their defender or wing advancing the ball, but the double-teaming sufficed to keep them out of the net for the rest of the game. Fortunately, the captain understood what I was doing, and confirmed afterwards that it had been the right tactic to take in that particular situation.

It wasn’t a very good game for me, but the team played pretty well as a whole. I’ve got to lose more weight – I’ve already dropped seven pounds, but I think I’m going to see if I can lose another 13 to get completely lean and see if that improves my speed and overall performance. I’m also back on the stretching machine and have added 10 degrees to my range, but I’d like to add another 20.

Aging is hard for every athlete, but despite the challenges, I feel very fortunate after running into one of my teammates the other day and being told that he’d just learned, after an MRI, that he was done for good. He was a really good player, a wing with an ability to sneak forward undetected and a powerful cannon of a shot. He’d been out all season already, but I really hated to hear that. I don’t know how much playing time I have left to me, but I’ll do what I can to stay on the field as long as I still have something to contribute.