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Black clouds rolled in the heavens opened up five minutes into the game. On the sidelines 50 umbrellas went up almost simultaneously. For 35 more minutes we all slipped and slid across the mud puddle we call Lancaster field number 10.
It's half time now, and all 16 of us are huddled in a tight circle. Our once white uniforms are smeared with mud and grass. It wreaks of sweat and shin guards, but nobody cares. We're all jumping up and down with our arms around each other. I can feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins. On the count of three we all yell, "Fire!" and sprint onto the field.
It’s the under-16 girls soccer championship of the Massachusetts Premier League. Our team, FC Fire, had a perfect record all season except for one game. One lousy goal ruined our seven-game undefeated streak. And who else could have the power to create such a blemish but South Shore Storm? They've been our biggest rivals as long as anyone can remember. Anytime we play together it's not a soccer field anymore. It's a battlefield. Break out the swords, there will be bloodshed. That is how the game was today.
Now I'm standing behind my team bouncing up and down on my toes waiting for the ref to blow his whistle and restart the game. We've got the ancient guy who can barely run down the field so of course he's taking forever. Come on, pops, we are running out of daylight here! There he goes, finally. Storm kicked it off since we did the first half, but our left forward, Leah, has just charged their 6 foot giant of a center mid and tapped the ball away from her. A give and go with her partner in crime, Liz, landed her behind the defense. She took a shot that just tipped off the crossbar for a goal kick. That's okay though. It was a good shot. Now all we have to do is keep it down that end.
Okay, never mind. Storm's goalie just kicked the ball way over half field and over my head. Now I have to go chase it down because the sweeper and the last line of defense. Not cool, goalie with ridiculously long kick, not cool. That's not even right. The female body is not constructed to be able to kick a soccer ball 75 yards. I swear that goalie's man.
No joke, a couple years ago at an indoor game we were waiting to play our next game, and we thought that goalie in the net was really hot with the short brown hair and athletic build. It was a coed game so we thought nothing of it. At halftime the goalie took off the Jersey to change and was wearing a sports bra. So we decided to never speak of that moment again.
Anyway, then I passed back to our goalie who kicked it in normal distance of 35 yards. We kept possession for the majority of the half, and we were totally controlling the game. We must have taken at least 15 shots. Most of them went wide though and those that didn't were within the reach of the man goalie.
The ref blew his whistle twice more and everybody headed to the sidelines to get some water before the first overtime. I brought my bottle of blue Gatorade with me to the center circle because the ref had called the captains for the coin flip. Storm sent the tall, blond, tan forward, number seven. She's been pulling my arms and Jersey all game long. I stared her down as she walked up. The blue Gatorade mustache probably ruined the intimidation effect though. That's okay, though, because I still won the toss. Tales never fails! Then I picked the less money side of the field hoping that the man goalie might slip in the mud and not be able to save our shots. The ref explained that it was a 20 minute golden goal period so the first team to score wins. So that's what I told my team before we took the field again.
For the next 20 minutes we went to war. Within the first 30 seconds Leah had been taken white blur that was the ball came my way. Just before the end of the first overtime I saw the ball about 10 yards outside the box. I charged at it, and as I wound up number seven came sliding in with her cleats up. I jumped to avoid her tackle but she grabbed my ankle and yanked me to the ground. No call. By that time the rain was falling so hard that no matter how many times you wiped the water out of your eyes you could not see. I kicked aimlessly anytime the ground. I heard a whistle blow from the mud pile my face was planted in, not for a foul. No, of course not. It was the end of the first half of overtime.
The only reason I knew nobody had scored was that the game hadn't ended. We switched sides in the war began again. It had been 100 minutes and everyone was exhausted. I was running purely on adrenaline. It was now or never. Somebody had to score. It was not going to be them.
In the 119th minute number seven sped by our outside defender, Annie, and broke into the box. Her twin sister, Ali, shifted in behind me as I stepped up to the attacker and blocked the ball. Blondie threw herself to the ground upon impact and rolled around in the mud holding her foot. The ref blew his whistle long and loud and hobbled huffing and puffing all the way to the penalty spot.
What the heck! That was the biggest, most theatrical dive I have ever seen in my life! I never even touched the girl! How we even know if I had? His 2-inch-thick glasses are clouded by the rain and he was standing with his hands on his knees at half field. I didn't do anything that time. The time a few minutes before in the corner when I hip checked her out of bounds is a different story, but he didn't even call that one.
Of course when she heard a whistle the diver popped right back up. Oh, my ankle, my ankle! Oh, I got the call? Okay, I'm better now. Dirty, dirty cheater. I hate her!
I prayed to God that Rachel could save it. I haven't been to church since I got confirmed last year. Forgive me, God. Please let Rachel save this shot. She's the best goalie of our age that I know, but penalty kicks are a nightmare. They're practically impossible to save.
I counted the steps she took before she kicked it: seven. She looked to top right corner. That's where she was going. Rachel could tell too. I saw her take a step that way. At the last second Blondie turned and shot to the left. Rachel had no time to readjust. The ball hit the back of the net sending ripples out from the spot that it hit. The image was permanently burned into my brain.
I fell to my knees and cried. I couldn't hold back the tears. The cheers of victory coming from the blue mob in front of the goal became more and more distant as my throat closed up. Ali and Annie had to drag me off the field. Our coach told us to hold our heads up high and that we’d played our hearts out and he couldn't be prouder. That didn't stop the tears from coming.
We lined up and shook hands with the Storm telling them all, "Good game." I sure as hell didn't mean it though. I wanted to punch number seven in the face as I passed her, but I didn't. That took about all the self-control I had in me. After that everyone went over to shake the ref’s hand. I didn't follow them. Call me a poor sport, go ahead, but it was for his own good. I was p***ed and he would have been the one I’d take it out on. The way I see it I saved him a black eye.
I dragged my feet getting over to the tent where they were keeping all the medals and trophies. My coach called my name, Jenna Zeilinski, and placed second place medal around my neck. It was about the size of a quarter. The ribbon attached to it was wider than the actual metal itself. What do you expect though? Second place is really just the number one loser. All that work, and nothing. A split-second is the difference between being champions and being forgotten. People don't remember the first loser anymore than they do the 15th. We came all this way, but none of it mattered at all.
We watched the Storm girls receive their medals which were so big that their heads leaned forward from the weight on their necks. They all smiled and cheered as tournament officials snapped pictures of them surrounding their 4-foot-tall trophy. That should be us. We deserved to win that game. We should have that trophy. We should be the ones turning our tongues black with frosting from a soccer ball cake. Stupid ref. Stupid number seven. Stupid field. Stupid rain. Stupid game.
I threw my sopping wet bag into the trunk of my dad's car then slammed it shut. I cranked the volume all the way up on my iPod. Then I decided that it might be better to just find it angry song rather than blasting my eardrums out of my head. We sat in silence the whole 40 minute ride home.
When I walked in the front door my mom asked how the rest of the game had gone. She had to leave halfway through the first overtime to pick up my 13-year-old sister, Kelly, from tap class. I totally blew her off. Later I felt bad about that... so I apologized. First, though, I took a 45 minute long seeming hot shower. I had been done washing my hair and scrubbing off all the dried mud after five minutes. I spent the rest of my time wallowing in my misery. I was perfectly content with this until Kelly and my parents decided that they wanted clean clothes to wear tomorrow morning. All of the warm water rushed to the washing machine while I was left with something so cold I'm surprised it wasn't slush.
I quickly jumped out tripping over the bathtub wall and nearly taking the shower curtain down with me. I turned off the water, dried off, put on a pair of baggy shorts and a double XL T-shirt, and headed for my room.
I dug the second place medal out of my bag and hung it up with all the others. I had ones from when I was eight and they give you a shiny plastic one just for playing all the way up to the Memorial Day tournament we'd won just three weeks ago. I stuck it in the back. Out of sight, out of mind. Then I crawled under my blankets and shut the light off. It didn't matter that it was only 7: 30 I was out before my head even hit the pillow.