For a long time my summers in my hometown included coaching soccer. As a matter of fact every summer from when I was 17 until the last full summer I ever spent there at the age of 22 I coached a neighbourhood rec team. We had a lot of success. Two teams won both the regular season title and the city championship. Two others won the regular season title and fell short in shootouts in the playoffs, one in the semis, the other in the final. Fuck I hate shootouts. A fifth finished fourth and lost a best of three playoff final two games to one. That last may have been my favourite of the bunch, always loved the underdogs I coached. The team we lost to was far superior and we pushed them right to the edge. It was wonderful.
The last team I coached before I came down south for good had won three titles in a row, one of those the previous year I had been the coach. They were a damn good team and the summer in question we tore through the league again and marched through the playoffs. We had a big winger who was fast and tough and who loved to score and we had a handful of guys who could poach goals with the best of them but our real quality was our midfield. We had three kids who could all play. There was a big fellow who was a sublime passer and had a long range bomb that he'd float over a keeper who was snealing off of his line. We had a little wiry guy who was a tenacious defender, a real shutdown guy, he could make plays too (he later played point guard for his college) but wasn't much for scoring. And then we had another smaller guy in the middle, probably the best player in the league. He could do it all, score, defend, make plays, you name it. Smartest guy I ever coached and really with him it was more or less a case of running him out there and letting him do his thing. And a ferocious competitor, wow he hated to lose.
We had lost a couple of pretty good players from our team the year before and there were a few more kids we had to hide out there but we still ran out to first place easily and going into the final against what would be considered our biggest 'rival' we knew that if we played our game we would win. They were a solid club but we'd beat them by a few goals usually, wear them down and then break it open.
So we got out there this Saturday afternoon and that was the plan. We knew we could shut them down, we'd play our game and we'd win. And so the game started and it went back and forth and we gradually took control. And then about twenty minutes in, the wheels fell off.
Now you have to realize something first. These kids had played together for three years and a number of them had played together for seven years and they were a competitive tough bunch and they had received, in all of that time, one yellow card. In seven years. And this was a rec league so the dirty stuff wasn't tolerated.
And suddenly our captain had a yellow for something inadvertent, a collision, a shirt tug maybe. It was nothing. A few minutes later he received a second yellow for something just as ticky tack. He was gone.
A few minutes after that a second midfielder, the big fellow, got a straight red. I think a kid ran into him and fell down. I really can't remember. It was awful.
The ref was a kid, maybe 17 or 18 years old. We'd never seen him before but he hadn't a clue. And now we were down to nine players with seventy minutes to go.
And we took it to them. We took it to them. And unbelievably the worst was yet to come. With minutes left, the game still at zeroes, one of our players took a long probing shot which the goalie mishandled, leaving a fat rebound. A little forward raced past their defenders and fired it into the net.
Despite it all we would win!
And then the ref, who had been TALKING to one of their players, called it offside despite the fact that it was in no way, in any way, close to offside by any definition. He hadn't even seen the play.
That was our last gasp. We battled through the overtime and it went to penalties and while our two best penalty takers sat on the sideline, ejected from the game 90 minutes earlier for nothing, we lost.
These boys and girls were thirteen years old, if I recall, and there were a lot of tears when it was all over. I told them that I was proud of them, I could not be more proud of them and that they were the champions, always would be. I didn't talk about the ref although when he came up after the game I didn't shake his hand and my assistant, who knew him from somewhere, I don't know where, we were only 22 so not much older than him, said calmly and firmly (and quietly so only he and I could hear it) that it was the worst officiated game he had ever witnessed.
After everyone left is when I started kicking shit over. ;)
That game was over twenty years ago and it still sticks in my craw. I had lost before and I would lose again and while I hate losing I can take it. But not that time. It was sheer incompetence from someone outside of the game who cost us the title. I had told the kids all year long to work hard and play as a team and that's all you can do but as long as you do that things will be fine. And here I was made a liar.
I hated it. Still makes me crazy lol. /drinks
And today, well today I saw it all over again and if a rec game still bothers me after twenty years, well I guess the Canadian women's soccer team will take this one to their graves.
Hey the Americans are quality, they have been for years, the best, although the world is catching up (or has caught up in some cases). Its possible that they may have pulled it off anyhow but they certainly didn't need any help. The game was poorly officiated right from the beginning but poor reffing in soccer, or in many sports, is not unusual. I really can't think of a greater incompetent than this Norwegian ref though. Its one thing to miss some calls but the handball in the American box, the ball that was clearly out for a goalkick that resulted in a corner for the Yanks instead, well, I can't say I've ever seen anything like it. Ever.
And the indirect free kick that led to the penalty? Certainly one of the worst calls ever. Worse then the Turk who was redcarded when a Brazilian's play acting suckered in a ref at the World Cup. Worse than myriad dives and Henry's handball against the Irish. The game happens quickly and refs are human and some are incompetent and sometimes the game happens too fast.
But to essentially give a team a free shot at the goal in a game this big at such a momentous time in the game on what is essentially bureaucracy?
No verbal warning. No yellow card for the keeper to warn her. Just an arbitrary decision so bizarre that nobody in my Twitter feed, witnesses of thousands of soccer games at every level, journalists, explayers, fans around the world, had ever seen it before.
Its an awful shame. I cannot imagine how Sinclair, who APOLOGIZED after the game, after a game that places her amongst the all time greats in this nation's rich sporting history, I cannot imagine how she feels. Or Tancredi or Scott or Matheson or any of the others who laid it all on the line to have it taken away like that.
Hey the Americans may have won it anyhow. The talent and experience on that side is overwhelming.
But if they were to win it it should not have been that way.
The awful thing is that these wonderful women still don't even have a medal, they may lose their next game and go home empty handed.
Except they have proven their character, their skill, their heart and their courage on the field of play and have done so on the biggest stage. They deserve our nation's applause and I encourage all of you to send tweets, messages, emails, however you can to tell them we are behind them and we will always remember their performance today.
Now excuse me while I go down to the Norwegian consulate. They have some 'splainin to do. /drinks, lights Molotov
Please check out this writeup by Ben Massey (@Lord_Bob) who knows more about soccer than I ever will and who I can imagine was just ruined by this result. Great stuff by Ben.