Saturday, August 29, 2015

Breaking the duck

Although I started last season well, scoring six goals in the fall half, I missed nearly half our games in the spring and didn't score at all, missing far too many good opportunities. Scoring is funny for an attacker; when it comes easily it comes effortlessly, but the more you think about it, the harder it gets. Some of it is bad luck, some of it is nerves, and some of it is poor decision-making.

We started the season this weekend and I figured I'd get less playing time because we've got two new attackers in their early thirties who have moved up from the first team due to losing their starting positions to younger, better players. Along with a pair of new midfielders, they are much-needed reinforcements that should see us back in competition for the league title that we used to own. Rather to my surprise, I ended up starting at left wing, although only because the usual starter was arriving late since he was coaching one of the kid's teams on one of our other fields.

We needed a referee, but our captain turned down Ender when he volunteered because the team we were playing is an all-Albanian team new to the league. Albanians are famous throughout Europe for their volatility, even in comparison with Italians, and it was easy to understand why a teenage referee would be a suboptimal choice. The guys were pretty pessimistic about the game in general, as apparently the Albanians had one former second-league player and at least two former third-league players, which was three more high-level players than we had.

However, I tended to like our chances a little better after the Albanians arrived and five of them turned out to be former teammates, two of whom I particularly like. The atmosphere was the exact opposite of heated, as everyone was visibly glad to see each other, many handshake-hugs were exchanged, and I realized that three of their players were technically skilled players who made our team worse two years ago because they seldom pass the ball and never, ever look outside. Better yet, the really good striker who played two games with us two seasons ago and is a serious scoring machine (5 goals in those two games), was injured and had come only along to watch, so that left the guy who had been my favorite partner up top being the only serious cause for concern among the known quantities.

We got off to a bad start, however, and it was partly my fault. The captain told me to play with a defensive orientation, as Sylvan, the defender behind me, was the weak link in the back four, being short and the only player on the team older than me. (It's generally not a good sign when the average age of your left side is 47 and their attackers and center mids are all in their early 30s.) But despite our age, both of us are in very good condition, and for the most part, we managed to control the left... except for the one time - the ONE time - I didn't hang back and attacked.

By that point, I knew I could beat my man, their right wing, whenever I wanted, so when we had the ball in their half and I saw the left defender follow an attacker inside, I waved at our center mid and broke hard. The timing was perfect and I was onside with a clear path to goal, but Sandro mishit the ball and it curved well behind me. Their right wing intercepted it and passed it immediately up the field to Vallon, a former teammate who doesn't pass, but is strong, fast, and formidable on the ball. Sylvan did his best and fought him the whole way, but was overpowered and outrun, and Vallon beat Giuseppe, our keeper, without any trouble.

Despite being down, we were starting to control the action and just missed on two half-chances. The regular left wing showed up not too long after the second one, so I came out just before we started scoring. Their left wing just couldn't cope with our right wing, who sent over a pair of crosses that both ended up in the net. Then a missed offsides call gave us a one-on-one break that one of our new attackers finished in a clinical manner, so it was 3-1 at the half.

A penalty kick and another headed cross made it 5-1 before I finally went back in, this time as an attacker. I beat the defenders on the left and had a great chance, but shot the ball a little too high, at waist-level, which let the diving goalie get his arm on it. Our left wing followed me in and should have scored on the rebound, but he tried to play around with it before shooting and was promptly shut down. My second chance was much the same, a weak left-footed shot that was blocked, but it was worse because I somehow missed seeing a wide-open Sandro in the center. (In fairness, he didn't call for the ball, so I had no idea he was there.)

Sandro didn't hold it against me, though, when later he dribbled around both defenders on the right, drew the goalie out to meet him, then slipped the ball backwards to me as I trailed. I probably should have driven hard to the left to clear the keeper then passed the ball into the empty net, but instead I hit it on the first touch from outside the box, putting it in a nice high arc that cleared the goalie before abruptly dipping down into the upper right corner. Thus was the duck broken. Our captain put in one more to close out the game, and we ended up winning 7-1 against the team everyone had expected to beat us.

The lesson: a team that runs and plays well together will easily beat better players who don't run well. Losing both wings killed them, because for all their ball skills, that meant they were forced to attack straight down the clogged center, then deal with our wings and outside defenders collapsing on them if they managed to break through the two center mids and the two central defenders. At times, their wings were 20 or 30 meters behind ours, so they were consistently reduced to trying to attack 3 or 4 on 8 in limited space. It was a testimony to their skill that they managed any pressure on us at all.

Tactics + athletics beat skill. The two least-skilled starters of the 22 men on the field were our right-wing and me, and the normal starter who replaced me on the left wing isn't much better, although at least he is left-footed. But all three of us can run, and it doesn't matter how good your ball skills are when you're consistently 15 meters behind the ball. And if your worst players can contribute two assists and one goal, plus control both sides of the field between them, then your team is probably in pretty good shape.

The guy who had been their keeper in the second half was my former attacking partner; he'd gone into the net at halftime. He came up to me after the game and gave me a hard time about getting stuffed on the two easier chances, then hitting on the difficult shot. I explained that I am a football artist and scoring in easy and obvious ways only bores me. He laughed, but I don't think he bought it.



Anonymous Susan August 29, 2015 7:31 AM  

Easy and obvious might bore you, but it keeps your coach happy. I suspect the coach puts up with your ignoring him because your gamer skills translate so well to soccer. He is a patient and smart coach.

Blogger VD August 29, 2015 7:50 AM  

No, I wasn't ignoring him, I was actually obeying him. He said he wanted me to play with a defensive orientation, not that he wanted me to play defense. As a wing, you're still expected to make the occasional attacking run, you just have to get back quickly afterwards.

It was just bad luck. 9 times out of 10 that pass is off, it goes too deep, not too short, and the momentary gap created by the attack is harmless.

Anonymous Susan August 29, 2015 8:19 AM  

Oh I think I get it now. I wish I understood more about this game. This and Hockey are two sports I like to watch.

Blogger samir August 29, 2015 8:35 AM  

Do you follow any professional team?

Blogger Rantor August 29, 2015 8:53 AM  

7 to 1, Scorapalooza!

Blogger RC August 29, 2015 8:58 AM  

If they could logically evaluate things, these types of posts should cause the SJWs to reevaluate all that they think they know about our host. The fact that a man is willing to openly admit that he was one of the least capable players on the field that day demonstrates that he weighs things openly and honestly. Not a man in a hundred would make such an admission, relatively fewer could then make a breakdown of a veteran's soccer game interesting enough to read and then tag on a life lesson to boot. Bravo.

Blogger camperbot August 29, 2015 9:17 AM  

The thing with Albanians is they always try to walk it in.

Blogger Cail Corishev August 29, 2015 9:17 AM  

RC, you're right, but if they read this, all they'll see is, "Jock jock jock jock...."

Blogger VD August 29, 2015 9:29 AM  

Do you follow any professional team?

AC Milan and Arsenal, although not very closely anymore. I am also kept well-apprised concerning Fiorentina by friends who are borderline ultras.

Blogger WarKicker August 29, 2015 9:33 AM  

What a well timed and encouraging post for me! About to head off and play the first game of the fall league with a bunch of 45+ year olds versus a much younger team that beat us for the league championship last season. We play 7 on 7 at a facility with shorter fields and rebound boards (no sidelines) so there are a lot more touches and a faster pace. My main attributes are speed and a strong leg (definitely not a finesse player). The shorter field somewhat negates the speed advantage and there is no such thing as long crosses toward the middle of the field (I usually play left wing). I think wer're going to reverse the wingers today to see if we can gain some inside advantage and cuts against the weaker foot of the opposing fullbacks. We shall see.

Blogger Daniel August 29, 2015 9:35 AM  

Clearly, you were brooding about only outscoring the SJWs 5-2 last weekend, and finally got organized for 7 goals this week.

Where was the Albanian team prior to this?

Blogger VD August 29, 2015 9:38 AM  

Where was the Albanian team prior to this?

Most of them were scattered among the different teams in our league and other leagues. I think that when a few of them hit the lower age limit, they realized they had enough people to field a team. You need about 20, due to injuries, schedules, and open substitutions.

Anonymous Jeffrey Quick August 29, 2015 9:54 AM  

FWIW, when I was growing up in SE Michigan, my Detroit friends claimed that Albanians were the only people who could block-bust blacks

Blogger Michael Maier August 29, 2015 11:45 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Michael Maier August 29, 2015 11:46 AM  

I learn more weird idioms around here...

Blogger maniacprovost August 29, 2015 12:45 PM  

The lesson: a team that runs and plays well together will easily beat better players who don't run well

Meanwhile, the SJWs are like 4 year olds mobbing the ball and shrieking.

Oh, this post was literally about futbol? Nm..

Anonymous Donn #0114 August 29, 2015 2:22 PM  

You said a whole bunch of them used to play for your team. How does that work? Were they Italians who now play for Albania or Albanians who played for an Italian team? Are things kind of fluid as to who you play for?

Blogger MendoScot August 29, 2015 2:46 PM  

I explained that I am a football artist and scoring in easy and obvious ways only bores me. He laughed, but I don't think he bought it.

Footie and fishing, if you can’t - ahem - exaggerate, where’s the fun?

Now, I learned playing Tibetans, who think that Aussie rules are for pussies.

Blogger Floyd Looney August 29, 2015 5:28 PM  

Being an American (Texan) I did not understand this article at first. Then I thought this was about Quidditch. Finally I figured out this is about playing Calvin-ball with teams. :p

Anonymous clk August 29, 2015 10:50 PM  

"I learn more weird idioms around here..."

Like "breaking the duck" -- I hadn't heard that term in 30+ years ---- a score of 0 is a duck in cricket (and duck is short for duck egg which looks like a zero) .. which is interesting because a score of 0 in baseball is a goose egg -- sometimes the type of egg is immaterial .. like when they say "the team lays an egg"

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