It had been quite a while — since high school to be exact — since I’d ventured onto a soccer field in any sort of competitive capacity.
Well, actually, that’s only partly true. The aforementioned high school soccer experience consisted solely of soccer games in my Team games class (an upper crust gym class of sorts, minus the unpleasant aspects — running, weight lifting, swimming laps — of your typical gym class). When it comes to organized league play, my last appearance dated all the way back to fourth grade.
Yet, there I was Wednesday afternoon, in mediocre shape, decked out in red shorts and a gray T-shirt emblazoned with an orange eagle on the front given to me by an extremely likeable high school football coach from western Kansas, standing in front of a shorter-than regulation size goal waiting for the next shot.
In front of me, the Ottumwa girls soccer team stood poised, ready to send this sports reporter back to the snug confines of his desk and office. I was half expecting to re-remember why I retired from the soccer field to test my luck on the gridiron many moons ago. But, because of luck and perhaps a small sprinkling of skill, I didn’t do half bad.
Sure, some shots whizzed by me. And, yes, the smaller net made it easier for me to anticipate where the kicks were going. And, I’ll admit, there were times when the girls’ shots caught me totally off-balance, but the kicks were just a little wide of the goal.
Still, rightly or wrongly, I concede, that I did indulge in a little bit of self-praise afterward. After all, I did block a fair number of shots, which is better than I expected to do. Oh, the hidden advantages of low expectations.
But, alas, when push comes to shove, when Veronica Gonzalez — or Carissa Bailey or others — got a good shot on the goal, I didn’t, or at least I wouldn’t have, stood a chance.
First year coach Brett McKenzie even got into the act, as he shook off the rust and showcased why he was such a dynamic player at Central College. You see, I had — with my cat-like reflexes and excellent hand-eye coordination — blocked a couple of shots by his players, and McKenzie, perhaps looking to inject some momentum into his squad’s bloodstream, suddenly took his position behind the ball like a snake waiting to uncoil on his prey.
Like a scene from a famous western, sans Wyatt Earp, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood (with or without an empty chair), it was McKenzie against me, man to man, mano y mano.
Cue the theme music from the “Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
I rocked back and forth on the balls of my feet and felt a rush of adrenaline surge through me as McKenzie waited to deliver a crushing kick. Then, in a ho-hum manner that reminded me of a person on a Sunday morning stroll, he casually booted a shot into the right corner of the net that I had no prayer of saving.
The casual manner exuded by McKenzie clothed the whole showdown in an anticlimactic garb that deflated my confidence like a balloon. Reality had strangled fantasy and, in a blink of an eye, I had metamorphosed from a confident goalie to the naive outsider I really was.
The rest of the story being written on the soccer field that day neither intensified nor lessened the main theme: I was decent, but not what you would call good. I made some more stops — some vestiges of athleticism remained from my more physically active days — but I wasn’t going to be a hot shot soccer goalie anytime soon.
Throughout the whole affair, McKenzie and his players were good sports and I appreciated their willingess to go along with my plan. I wish the Bulldogs an abundance of luck this season.
Got a sports challenge for Courier sports writer Andy Heintz? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.