Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My shot for redemption

We were down by one goal with little time remaining when an opponent tripped my teammate in the box and we were awarded a penalty kick. Unfortunately, the obvious PK-taker, our best offensive player, the dazzling, Division 1 striker lacked confidence from the 12-yard spot. While my teammates looked at each other and at the coach to decide who would step up, I jogged assertively to the referee and accepted the ball and the responsibility.

Early in the game I had received a cross from the left wing and, on my first touch with my right foot, slipped the ball between the charging keeper's left glove and not-quite-high-enough outstretched left leg. But the line judge disallowed the goal. Apparently, I jumped offsides before the pass. Of course I argued, but I secretly realized that to find the ball amid a gaggle of defenders I likely snuck a half-step behind them.

A goal is a beautiful, wonderful thing. To lose one is crushing, but it is also motivating. And so I worked hard, running and jumping and lunging and tackling and grabbing and nudging. An hour later, the game presented a second chance -- my shot to redeem myself.

I imagined how cool I must have seemed, betraying no emotion as I walked to the painted spot, carefully placed the ball atop a coarse tuft of grass and paced calmly backward and to my left. I pretended to ignore my teammates, opponents and mom, who I knew was more than nervous than I was.

I looked straight at the goalie -- not left, not right -- and visualized my target, confident in my muscle-memory tuned after hundreds of practice attempts. When the referee blew his whistle to signal that I may commence my moment of glory, I stepped swiftly to the ball and, with my head down and my arms extended in that perfect shooter's silhouette, struck with my right foot, pivoted slightly on my left to blast the ball across my body and landed on that same shooting shoe for textbook form. I watched my laser head toward the side-netting that clung tautly to the left goal post.

Although the goalie guessed the correct side at which to dive, he flailed helplessly. This ball could never be reached, not at that pace. Yet, as I registered this in the hundredths-of-a-second it takes a solidly struck inflated ball to travel twelve-yards, I realized the situation was amiss. This ball was not about to upset that still, orange mesh.

No, this ball whizzed too far to the left and now I was the helpless one. I watched my shot rattle the goal post and carom at a 45-degree angle back to the rushing opponents who had coiled along the perimeter of the eighteen-yard box ready to pounce on the unlikely chance I missed the gaping goal before us.

As I ran impotently toward the rebound, a defender turned and rocketed the ball upfield. A few minutes later, the referee exhaled his staccato chirp-chirp-chiiirp and the game ended. The score held and we lost by one.

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