Breaking the duck

I didn’t score a single goal last season. After moving to the wing, I didn’t have as many chances and scoring wasn’t even one of my top three responsibilities, but even so, I failed to capitalize on the chances that I had. Which, at my age, understandably causes one to wonder if one has simply lost it. It does happen, after all. Our leading scorer over the last six years now scores about one-third as often as he did previously; now he more often scores on free kicks and set plays than in the open field.

We didn’t have either of our goalies for the second game of the season, so I volunteered to play in goal since our two starting attackers are the first and second options. I can play in goal reasonably well – we all occasionally take turns in practice – and unlike most European players I can catch, punt, and throw the ball, but my average height is deemed undesirable in a position where the normal keeper is 6’3″ or taller. My argument was that I’m less valuable on the field than either of them, but the captain decided to put our top scorer in goal and start me at attacker instead of on the wing. Two games at 50, two starts. Not bad!

It turned out to be the right decision, as I nearly got an assist very early on when I stole the ball from their number ten, pushed it forward, then pulled it back when one of our new players – who is a very skilled ballhandler – called for it at the top of the box. Unfortunately, the giant defender who was chasing me heard him and just managed to deflect my pass back enough to make him miss it. The defender was really good, because also he managed to keep me from breaking in on goal about a minute later by forcing me outside when I tried to blow right past him.

However, the speed of our right wing was killing them on their left side, as we kept putting on pressure with either a simple one-two out toward the line or a one-two-three where I would come back, take a pass from either a right-side defender or a midfielder to my left, then pass it diagonally forward behind the defense, and our right wing would beat both his guy and the defender and cross it. We both have speed, but he has more endurance and better skill, so it seems to work better with me at attacker and him on the wing than the other way around, which we’ve tried before. We came close several times, until finally he passed to the other striker, our captain, who was breaking into the middle, only the angle of the pass was too far behind him.

I was following the captain, figuring to follow up his shot if the goalie blocked it, and fortunately, the central defender was so focused on him as the intended target that he mostly missed the ball as it went behind him too. So, I ran on to it, pushed it left to prevent the defender from interfering, then fired back right with my left foot and caught the goalie moving the wrong way. Goal! 1-0. Our attacker who was playing keeper, saw the whole thing and told me later that he cringed when he realized I was going to shoot with my left foot, which he knows very well is NOT my shooting foot. Fortunately, his reasonable expectations were defied by the result.

I took myself out about 10 minutes later, and felt quite justified in having done so when the defender who had been chasing me all over the place immediately followed suit. He told me on the sideline that he felt like he needed oxygen after all that running around. We controlled the game the rest of the half, but missed a penalty kick and so failed to put it away. I went back in to start the second half, but was mostly ineffective with the exception of one long breakaway that won a corner. After I went out again, their goalie bailed them out on great saves of two near-lethal shots from our midfielders, but finally our right wing managed to blow past the left defender and put what I initially thought was a low cross into the far side of the net. 2-0 and that was the game.

I expect I’ll be back on the left wing next week, and I’ll be perfectly happy to play there seeing as that’s probably where I can best help the team. But it’s encouraging to know that, as one of our players said, if even our oldest, least-skilled players are legitimate scoring threats, our opponents can’t focus on shutting anyone down.