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Either Way

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“You have to prepare yourself for the game to go either way,” my coach says as we sit on the wobbly wooden bench, lacing our soccer cleats up one last time. “Just because you're winning doesn’t mean you can’t lose the game.”

We all trade looks. We’ve heard this lecture before. And since when has it been true?

We line up, jumping a little with pre-game nerves.

We clap respectively for the other team while they get called out onto the field one by one, thought inwardly we’re all rolling our eyes. Stupid visitors. They should go home now, while they have some pride.

“And now, let’s hear it for the Cedar High Redskins!” our principle yells. The fans in the bleachers scream our names as we swipe a hand along the cool grass before running to take our places.

We trade high fives with our nearest teammate, our confident smiles radiating all around. It’s in the bag. It really is.

We score five goals in the first ten minutes of the game. Two by me, two by Andrea, and one by Taylin. The captains have scored for the glory of the team.

Our cocky swagger is on now. Coach is trying to tell us to get our head in the game. He’s yelling himself purple. We, of course, aren’t listening. Half time comes and goes.

A girl shoves me from behind. I get in her face, yelling at her to keep her stupid fat hands off of me. Her eyes go wide. The game does not stop; it only whirls on behind me.

“Sasha!”

My head whips at my name. Coach is looking dark, dangerous.

The ref blows his whistle for a sub in. My name is called. Wait, why is Coach subbing ME out? I’ve never gone out, except for the occasional red card. What?

I slap a quick high five with my sub in and storm off the field.

“This is our final game!” I shout at Coach. I’m crossing the line, but I am mad. “This is the game that decides if we make it to the championships. Why are you taking me out?”

“You're losing your head. You and the rest of the team!” Coach throws his clipboard down. “I did not come here to coach a bunch of cocky girls. Be humble! Did you not hear me say that a game is never in the bag? Have you watched Real Madrid play? Have you watched––”

“I have,” I say tersely.

“Then you should know better than to be strutting around with your team. You're a captain. Act like one.”

His words sting.

So does the goal that gets slammed into the back of the net. Into the back of OUR net. I freeze from where I am, stretching on the sidelines. Our team goes silent.

The cockiness slips away as the other team scores again. And again. And once more yet again.

“Come on, Coach,” I say. “Put me back in.”

He does.

It’s me. It happens because of me. A sloppy slide tackle, and the other team gets a penalty kick.

Our hearts stop. A lump is in my throat. It’s me. It’s all me. My fault.

If they make this, they’ll win. We could lose. Four minutes to game over. Three.

The player lines up. Two. Shoots. I close my eyes. Ping.

It hits the crossbar.

We’re running.

The ball is at my feet. The fans are screaming, yelling. I’m running. Hands and arms pumping.

They’d had too much faith in their player. There’s hardly anyone on defense.

A pass to Andrea.

A pass back.

My leg flies back and kicks with all the force I have.

Ten, nine, eight––Goalie leaps––seven, six––Ball brushes the fingertips of the gloves, keeps going––five, four, three, two––ball hits the back of the net––one. GOAL!!!!!

We fly together in a triumphant hug. Screams and tears mingle. We’re going to the championships.

But as we head off the field, we are humble. A game has been won but a lesson has been learned. We understand now.

That game could have gone either way.



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