Monday, March 3, 2008

The Orangemen -- 01/03/2008

It was dark, really really dark. Coming through the gates of Lake Fairfax Park it was hard to believe the game was still on. As I drove several miles through the pitch black, twisty hills of the woodland it did not seem like I was heading towards a game. The road wrapped ever deeper into nowhere. It was too different, the feel, the look, I was too far away from anything familiar. But then the woods parted and an empty parking lot appeared in the head lights. When the teams began arriving the field lights were not on, nothing looked normal. Soon, as the new lights began to brighten an elevated soccer field, a brand new synthetic playing surface was revealed. The new field reflected brightly under the powerful lights against the complete darkness of the night. The brightness I will always remember. It cast a futuristic feel to this temple of ours. A sort of post apocalyptic oasis to play our long lost game among the ancient trees worshiped by Druid priests. An eerie glowing portal in the middle of nowhere on which to play our beautiful game.

It was also cold, very very cold. One of the first to arrive was Jim Landoll, the team had grown to four. It was only minutes before kickoff, so things did not look like we would start on-time if at all, as only a few players on either side had arrived. It was a lonely feeling and pulling off our hats, gloves, and coats did not seem advisable when you are in the middle of nowhere on a cold, dark night. Les Stroud himself would caution against such foolishness. Jim Landoll announced that he didn't think he was going to play. Better judgement had emerged. But just as Jim has done for decades, his instincts knew no better, so he ran onto the pitch, still bundled against the cold, with a ball at his feet and a game in his heart. He began to warm up. I joined him. I said, "Jim, not only are you going to play tonight, by the looks of it you are going to play the whole game". Slowly we could see headlights through the trees, indicating that more players were slowly winding their way through the woods trying to find the field. The field lights, shining at full brightness now, would no doubt serve as a better beacon for those arriving late.

So at 7:40 pm the game was on, we were still short handed, but we had enough to begin. The headlights in the trees still indicated that a full squad approached. Early on, it was easy to see that our opponent had numbers, speed, youth and energy. It seemed we were unable to move the ball past mid-field, let alone challenge their goal. We would clear, but they would mount an attack almost immediately. They attacked relentlessly. They got under our defense and shot on goal. They shot from range. We brought back numbers and tried a bunker defense against the onslaught. I crept up to play midfield, attempting to move the ball further into their end to ease the continuous attacks, or at least give the defense some time to rest. But they attacked on the left and then the right, continuing to shoot on goal. Our keeper made some of the best clutch saves I have seen. Left to fend off several one v one strikes he stepped up to the task and defeated everyone.

But our luck would not hold out. Their first break through came when Teddy "I've got a good right foot too" Ogren tried to clear the ball from just inside our penalty box with, unfortunately, his right foot. The cross was a perfect centering pass to a charging central mid-fielder who had had enough of our resistance. He punished us. Then later in the half, after a series of more attacks somehow averted by our keeper, I moved quickly across midfield to intercept an errant pass. I, or Jim "I've got a good left foot too" Muccio miss-connected with the ball with that good left foot of mine only serving to glance it on its trajectory thereby lifting it deftly over the head of Karl "I'm from the Bundesliga" Mueller our right back. It dropped onto the run of their charging left winger. This one he would not miss. They had scored and broken our defense, twice. The associated doom of a game gone bad lodged in my mind. How would we stop the bleeding?

Somehow we did. As more of our team arrived we shifted our defense, and settled on Jose, Doug, and John "I'm too fast to know I'm short" Hamner taking turns in the back. When half-time arrived we had stopped the bleeding, but we were no closer to posting a point. Due to the temperature both captains agreed to a short half-time and we were back on the pitch, staring down the barrel of a seemingly stronger side.

Then a miracle occurred, Tedd "Daniel Day-Lewis" Ogren, found his left foot. It happen on a corner kick we won early in the second half. Tedd played the perfect ball launching it straight into the goal box before it began a curl away from the keepers outstretched mitts. Doug "I hear the train a coming" on a rampage from his position as sweeper came charging up the field and met the out swinging ball with his head in full stride. The ball had no choice put to stretch the back of the net. We had scored our first goal against a very strong side -- could we continue forward?

Then a second miracle occurred. But perhaps it wasn't a miracle at all. Tedd brought the ball down about 23 yard out. He brought it down on his much favored left side. Some might have anticipated a Tedd rocket special, but instead he curled the ball up and softly down around the out stretched hands of their keeper to hit the upper left corner of the goal. A line drive would not have worked -- there were perhaps 10 players between him and the goal -- he carried the ball over everyone to score our second goal.

But Tedd was not through. He made a run down the left side of the pitch -- all legs and elbows flying as he negotiated around not one or two but three challengers. He found himself in position to once again strike a cross into the box with his left foot. As he laid defenders in his wake more approached to fill in the holes drawing the center of the field clear. He then struck the cross. I was standing alone near the top of the goal box on the far side. I would easily be able to play this approaching ball with my foot. I had time to think about it. Then, moving smartly to meet the arching ball came a vision in a bright orange wool cap. It was Jim "I've been addicted to this game since before you were born" Landoll. He charged onto the crossing ball, and as Doug had done just moments before -- finished into the top of the net -- well away from the keeper that he had been beat by yards. We were now on top.

The game raged on -- with rapid runs moving end to end. Our defense was strong with either Jose or John sprinting to break up attack after attack. And then quickly moving back up the field to join the counter attack. We also had the younger John "I'm the keeper's son" all curls and speed displaying clinic after clinic for our now pressured adversaries. John dumped the ball to Jose who started a run similar to Tedd's just minutes before, this time up the right side of the field. We have seen Jose make this run countless times. He holds the ball until challenged and then dumps it into space, then using his speed alone he beats defender after defender. I made a run up the left side of the field knowing in my heart the outcome of Jose's attack. He would beat the last defender and place a shot on goal. Still I made the run possibly just so I would have something to complain about, knowing I would not get the ball. Against all odds I signalled my presence to Jose with a long yell of his name, "HOOOOOOOOOOOZZZAAAAAAAAAAAAAA" I yelled out into the night with all I could muster. Then a miracle occurred. Jose split the last two defenders with a pass -- it was a perfect diagonal between the defenders directly into my run. It was perfectly weighted ball, enough to tempt the keeper to charge a little, but then rethink and retreat. But then, when he realized that I would get to the ball first he charged. But too late. He tried to make himself large, as they teach in the keeper schools but I kept my head down to concentrate on my strike, not intimidated by this peacock feathers. When I struck the ball I knew I had scored. I hit it just about as hard as I could. The ball stayed down, glued to the pitch and went as straight as an arrow. The keeper tried in vain to close his legs and drop his hands low enough to stop the strike. The ball went straight throw the 5 hole and into the back of the net. We had scored four points against very uncertain odds.

As we lined up for the kick-off we felt as if we had just played a life time. Someone asked the ref how many minutes were left in the game. It had felt like we had just played three games. The ref's reply was relayed as three minutes -- relief that we had won the game sunk over those of us who heard the three minute warning. But then there was some confusion. The ref didn't say three minutes he said 20 minutes. What? We scored all four goals in under 25 minutes in a single half -- how was that possible? And worse, how would it be possible to hold off 20 more minutes of an attacking, and now very motivated opponent. Well, we did. Thanks to the continued defense and lengthy counter attacks. We held out and won a game of games. This one would go down in history -- if there was only a scribe present to capture the highlights. Those highlights being that Tedd Ogren was the MPV with two assists and one goal and Jim Landoll takes the game winner to mount in his living room for all time.

So as we broke apart for the night -- to leave this cold pitch, this dark and lonely place, nothing will remain. We were victorious, but the memories would soon fade, and the memories, as the great bard would say, of only we few, we happy few, we band of brothers, we few souls gathered of all humanity for battle on this solitary night. But this was a memorable night, and there was a scribe present, and I will remember it as vividly as I remember the brightness of the field.