I can't breathe...I can feel my wind pipe closing...Good Lord I think I'm going to die...
This is what I felt tonight when I played a full 90-minute soccer game for the first time in three weeks...And, oddly enough, this is what makes me feel most alive! It's the bruises and scratches, the sweat and the blood, the little black bits of rubber that get stuck freakin' everywhere! I mean, come on! It's the beautiful game and I love it!
The adrenaline kicks in. Our forwards chase the ball into the corner and I make a run up the right wing. I break left on the diagonal toward the goal. Everyone on the back line yells, "Alyssa! See Alyssa! Top of the box!!!" The ball is falling toward me from a defender's weak clearance. I tee up and position my body. It floats toward me in slow motion and I can feel the blood pumping in my head. I know exactly what to do; I've seen Steven Gerrard do it a million times. It's like cocking a gun. You plant your left foot, step back with your right, twist your body shoulder first to get the most power and follow through with your hips and leg. I've seen it a million times...doesn't mean I can do it...I get a bit over anxious and connect but I get too much under the ball and it sails over the cross bar. I turn in disgust before the ball even reaches the goal box.
But hey, as my teammates say to me as I jog back into position, "You can't score unless you shoot!" and also, "You looked like Charlie Adam back there!" To which I respond a bit out of breath, "Nah, I don't have nearly enough gaps in my teeth."
A few high fives and pats on the back see me back to my position at right back. (By the way, for those who don't know, Charlie Adam plays attacking center midfield. I liken myself more to a true right back such as Martin Kelly or Glen Johnson both of whom are teammates of Charlie Adam on the greatest English football team: Liverpool Football Club.) But I digress...The game goes on with my team controlling the match and after the few obligatory missed calls by the referee, the game comes to a close.
As I sit on the sideline gingerly kicking off my cleats and peeling off my socks and shin guards, I can't help but smile between the grimaces from sore muscles and bruised knees. One of my favorite things about soccer (I'm American, that's how my people say it!) is that every kid who learns to play the beautiful game is taught the same fundamental etiquette no matter if you grew up in San Francisco, Sao Paolo, Liverpool, Tehran, Frankfurt or Beijing. You shake hands with the opposing team and the referees (unless you are a prima donna pretty boy like some soccer superstars who have multiple sticks up their butts), you use the referees as scapegoats, and you all enjoy post-match snacks: orange slices, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies or otherwise.
The reason why the world recognizes soccer as the beautiful game is because each country makes it its own. German "Fußball" embodies military precision and tactics. English "football" is characterized by merciless force and power. American "soccer" demonstrates athleticism and physicality. And Brazilian "futbol" is like a dance so easily do they maneuver with the ball at their feet.
I know that soccer hasn't quite caught on in America (despite my greatest efforts to spread "the word"). But to those Americans who do not follow Major League Soccer, greatness doesn't come overnight. And to those who dismiss soccer from any country, greatness isn't recognized overnight, either. Even David Beckham had to practice bending those free kicks...