Soccer magic moments from Mike
I LOVE your writing!!!!!! If someone was not passionate about soccer, or any sport, prior to reading your words, I guarantee that after they read you, they are passionate about SOMETHING!
A moment that stands out in my playing memory, something I have shared with all my teams from 6 Years old through high school: Over 30 years ago, my small college team (Berry College) had just won our Conference championship, and we were heading into a NAIA District championship game with a university team that was then ranked in the top 10 nationally, and they had an international lineup headed by the former coach of the Russian Red Army soccer team.
We arrived at the neutral field to find it muddy after a week of rain. We took the field and squared off against a University of Alabama team that was bigger, and as a team far more talented. We had a mix of veterans and several freshman starters. It was my second year, but my first as a starter in the goal. UAH took it to us early, going up 3 - 0 within the first 20 minutes of the match.
The goals were all solid scores, and there wasn't much I could do, as their front line picked apart our defense. This game would decide one of the four teams to move into the Regional semi-finals, and when you go down 3 - 0 in the first 20 minutes to a better team, it can only get worse. But it didn't. I knew I had a choice. I could give up, or play with reckless abandon.
The next shot across the goal might have been going wide but I found myself diving long and making the save. Soon after a breakaway came down right middle, their star forward, a strong player from Iran, unleashed a canon shot, but I reacted well and blocked it off my body, the rebound going out to midfield. And at that moment, every player on our team realized that this was a match we could win. We got angry, we dug deeper than we had all season and we proceeded to beat UAH to the ball over the next 25 minutes, scoring a single goal, and going into the halftime break down 3 -1.
We found that this team was a better skilled team but they were predictable. We were faster, and the bad field conditions suited our English hard-nosed style very well that day. Once back on the field for the second half, it was clear that the momentum had shifted, much to their surprise.
We all shut them down in the second half and by the end of regulation, we had come back with 2 more goals to even the score at 3 -3.
The first overtime was a scoreless battle, and somehow my saves kept coming, with the defense just shutting the lanes down completely most of the time. With only a minute left in the second overtime, a perfectly angled midfield cross by our left forward found one of our freshman forwards, the smallest player on the field, breaking through unmarked inside of the penalty area. Akoubian's game winning header shot straight into the upper left corner, just past the outreached hands of the diving keeper, who had been my team-mate the previous year.
We all felt as if we'd taken our game to a higher level that day. There was a confidence in the air that we'd not known before. We'd beaten one of the best teams in the nation that day, coming from behind in the boldest way imaginable, all because we refused to accept defeat.
One week later we would lose 4 -3 in the Regional Semi-finals.... after a tied 3-3 score lasted into the final minute of the 7th 15 minute overtime, (that's right - 7 overtimes 15 miuntes each!) the 2nd longest college game ever played in the U.S. A defensive error with everyone dead exhausted caused a ball to be played back into our net. A very tough way to lose. (After that 1975 season, and partly due to this match, the rules were changed to only permit 2 overtimes before penalty kicks, a rule that stands today.)
Win or lose, our team learned that when you are willing to leave everything out there on the field, anything is possible.
Posted on 06 Aug 2005 by coachgianni