Well we've come to that time in the soccer season, the regular schedule is winding down and everyone's focus is on the end-of-year tournament. The Green Dragons, Avery's team, played its first tourney game Tuesday night and the outcome was every bit as thrilling as a Cinderella upset in the first round of March Madness. After getting down 2 goals early, the Dragons scored to cut the lead in half. Within moments the other team scored again and took the wind right out of our sails. But a few fortunate bounces and a well-executed penalty kick gave us a tie game, and we went to sudden-death overtime. Of course this is a 7-year-old league, so the official terminology was "Golden Goal", first score in OT wins the game. The Dragons took the opening kickoff of the extra time straight down the field and scored the game winner, extending their season by what we thought was the slimmest margin. Next game, Thursday night at 7.
So when Thursday's semi-finals game rolled around, you could really feel a different energy among the team. They were in to it, the crowd was in to it, and of course I was in to it. The Dragons started this game much better than the last, coming out running hard and being aggressive. They took the lead early and played stifling defense for the rest of the game . . except the last 12 seconds. In one of the worst errors in judgement they'd made all season, the defense brought a ball back in front of our goal and allowed it to squirt loose. The opposition's best player capitalized and tied the score at the end of regulation. The 5 minute overtime was full of action, although the fatigue was clearly starting to show. Both teams were clearly playing to avoid mistakes instead of being aggressive. Our goalie stopped a penalty kick for an inadvertent hand-ball, which turned out to be the only real scoring opportunity for either team. There is no second overtime, it goes to penalty kicks next and if there's no winner, best 2 out of 3 coin flips. The excitement was palpable . . the crowd was frenzied, the kids were completely manic, and the head coach and I were shittin' rocks. The first 4 to kick for each team missed, most of them badly, so the tension was building quickly. We got on the board first and put the pressure squarely on their kids, and you could start to taste the victory. Our goalie made two really great saves, we made two more shots, and the opposing coaches conceded the game when we had two players left to shoot. It was out of reach, and the celebration began. "We're going to the championship!" they all chanted as we lined them up for the post-game handshake, most of the other players visibly fighting back tears. The swell of pride from the coaches and parents took a little of the chill out of the cold November air, as we all stood for a moment to soak in this great moment. It may not have been a Super Bowl or a Final Four, but you couldn't ask for better sports drama than that. The championship game is tonight at 6:00, and while we're hoping we just blow the other team out, I for one would not be upset if it came down to the wire again. Go Green Dragons!