The stadium lights glowed in the warm, early evening, the turf a bright green. Hershey Park Stadium was mostly empty as my son’s high school soccer team warmed up. Rap music played over the loud speaker. The American flag waved in the gentle breeze, its red and white stripes undulating against the soft, purple dusk.
We were confident, winning the Berks County Championship in a shutout, and crushing our first round district opponent. In fact, our defense hadn’t let up a goal in the last four games and our offense was on fire. Stacked with thirteen seniors, this high school team was posed to make a deep run into the state tournament, maybe even win the whole thing.
A state championship.
With ten minutes left in the match, I was on my feet, my heart pounding, screaming, “This is it! You have ten minutes left in your soccer career.” Though we’d dominated the contest, outshooting our opponent, we were down 1-0.
Brazilian soccer virtuoso, Pele coined the term o jogo bonita.
The beautiful game.
Soccer is more like music, art, and literature than any other sport. It’s played in a fluid, continuous thread. American sports like football, basketball, and baseball constantly stop and restart. In soccer, there is an unparalleled aesthetic dimension to the flow and resulting unpredictability of the game. It’s part craft, part magic—the line blurry between the two.
It’s also cruel and capricious.
As I watched the clock run down, it flashed before me: the years of youth soccer, the club games, the tournaments, the ambiguity about whether soccer was my son’s sport, the shadow of my husband’s professional soccer career, and the countless hours my husband coached my son’s team, the volunteer stints in the concession stand, the friendships lost and gained, the hope of what might have been.
“This is it!!!” I felt as if I was falling.
“Everybody up!” my husband screamed, his voice wild with despair.
When you are driving to your hundredth club game, you can’t imagine that there will be a final ten minutes—that there will be a finish line. It floats somewhere in the distance future. Until the clock is burning down and the end is crashing in on you like a tsunami.
“Everybody up!” my seventy-three-year-old mother echoed. “Let’s go!”
We watched helplessly as the boys hammered the opposing goal, each shot denied by the goalie, the cross bar, or fate. This wasn’t how it was predicted to end. The final minutes of a lifetime supporting my men on the soccer field (first my brothers, then my husband, and now my son) were concluding in a frantic, impotent race against the clock.
“That’s why I hate this game,” a fellow dejected parent said to my husband after the game. “You can be the better team and still lose.”
We were undeniably the more talented squad, holding possession, taking shots on goals. But still we under-performed. And the underdog over-performed.
There would be no consolation. No next game. Or next season. My son made the decision last year that he’d play lacrosse in college. This soccer season was just for fun. Or was it?
As the bullhorn blared, the clock read 00:00 and the scoreboard 0-1, I wept. I am a little embarrassed to admit this. My tears weren’t so much over the fact that we lost, but rather a flood of emotion that I had witnessed the end of an era. That my little boy was growing up. He hugged me hard when I met him at the stadium stairs, and he even wrapped his sister in an embrace.
It’s been a gloomy week. For my son, the overwhelming sadness that soccer is over has been surprising and unexpected. Thirteen years and it’s done. He wasn’t prepared for these emotions, maybe not realizing how much he loved soccer and what it had meant to him—after all, he’s a lacrosse player.
The cliché is true: sports are a metaphor for life. This is the first time my son is experiencing a sense of loss, melancholy, remorse. Though I am sure he doesn’t realize it, this defeat is a tiny step into adulthood. I am hopeful these are lessons he will carry forward. That he will understand there will be lasts and you need to make the most of every opportunity in the present. In adulthood, there are few opportunities for do-overs.
T.S. Elliott said the world will end, “Not with a bang, but with a whimper.” And so did this soccer season.
Goodbye, my beautiful game.
“Sports teaches you character, it teaches you to play by the rules, it teaches you to know what it feels like to win and lose—it teaches you about life.”
—Billy Jean King
Want to read a couple more of my soccer posts? Try The Last Season and Do You Want To Know What It’s Like To Be Married To A Professional Athlete?
My novel, What The Valley Knows, will be released January 25, 2018. Woohoo! Preorder now, using the code PREORDER2017 to save an additional 10%. Click HERE to purchase and enter to win a $100 Barnes & Noble gift card or a Kindle Paperwhite.
“With strong prose and pacing, the pages turn quickly and easily . . . A taut, compelling family tale.” -Kirkus Reviews
Photo credits: Wilson High School huddle and teenage Cole: Mary Kelleher; Family Photo: Jennifer Myers; Cole as a young soccer player: His mom, me!