Sunday, June 14, 2009

Running in the rain ...

Boston, finally clearing ...

After yesterday's brilliant spring day, I was holding out hope that sunshine would grace our Over-40 soccer finale this morning. What I got was even better ... rain. Lots and lots of rain. Granted, a number of the, um, more "mature" booters on our Wen-Ham United Football Club aren't all that fond of a wet field, but I'm not one of them. Nothing makes me feel more like a kid than messing around in the muck. Not that it's easier. In fact, as a goalie, I have a healthy respect for the havoc that a wet ball can create. But I'll take the trade-off ... running in the rain has always been, and I hope always will be, one of the more exhilarating experiences of my life.

We were matched up against our cross-country rivals, FC Boxford, a band of skilled and fleet players who we've gotten to know quite well over the years. Several members of their squad were once teammates, and a few of us play for their indoor team during the winter. There's a healthy respect between the teams, which probably adds to the level of intensity of these games. Earlier this season, we played FCB to a 0-0 standoff, and it was the start of a nice run for our guys. We came into this match knowing it was the last of the season for us. There was absolutely no pressure; we had secured our spot in Division 3, but hadn't garnered enough points to make the playoffs. For us, then, it was strictly a social affair.

Not so for FCB. The Boxfordians needed a win to assure they were safe from relegation, so there was considerable pride at stake. Not to mention bragging rights. We understood that FCB would come out gunning for bear, but still had trouble matching their level of play. They had that extra jump in their step right from the get-go, winning most 50/50 balls, and creating scoring chances at will. Our guys hung tough, though, and we were able to keep them off the scoreboard for most of the first half. I managed to keep my mitts on that greased ball on most scoring bids, except for two shots that glanced off my fingertips and then off the crossbar. Another terrific shot from FCB's Eric Swain sailed just past my outstretched right hand, but the ball struck the outside post. Then, just minutes before half time, FCB sent a free kick into the box. I charged off my line to punch the ball away, but a split second before I reached it, Swain flashed between us. The ball skimmed off the top of his head, over my balled-up fists, and into the net. It was, admittedly, a great goal, and the difference in the 1-0 final result.

Five years ago (maybe 10?), I might have gotten to that ball. But I supposed that's what they mean by "Over the Hill," eh? The goalie in me never likes to concede anything, and I can't help but feel like I should have had that cross. Next season, I'm redoubling my efforts to play a bit more assertive in the goal box, and make sure that I win those 50/50 balls. That said, the 51-year-old in me understands that balls will occasionally get past me, and I'm really too old to be losing any sleep over them. And it was a blast to play in the rain, and finish covered in mud and grass stains!

At halftime, I gave way to my netminding colleague, Stephan Thieringer, who I had platooned with all season (given my injury history, it was a wise move by our captain, Daniel "Ahab" Bates, to recruit another keeper). Stephan made a couple of great stops to keep the game close, but we could never dent the FCB defense, despite hitting a post as well. It was a well-played, hard-fought contest, and today we came up just a bit short. The game ended with FCB garnering all three points, ensuring a couple of rematches during the fall OTHSL season. And everyone finished soaked to the bone. It's never fun to lose, but we escaped relatively unscathed. Injuries, after all, are the biggest concern when splashing around on a slick field. The truth is, my biggest regret is that the rain canceled our planned post-game cookout with the FCB squad. So now I've got that to look forward to next fall when we meet up again!


No comments: