This story (wish?) was inspired by a FaceBook post from one of Kevin’s Aztec teammates. Among the things I’ve written so far it may be my favorite piece. Soccer was one of the many gifts Kevin gave to me. I described a game I can see in my minds eye.
Your wish and my wish both Billy.
Deering Stadium, Danvers High School. The grass is thick, lush and soft, a deep green. It’s fall, some of the spectators are wearing long sleeves and sweatshirts but it’s still pretty nice, perfect for being on the field, warm but not hot. The leaves are turning, but they are still on the trees. The sun is low and the light soft, but clear, the way it gets on a New England fall afternoon. There is the slightest breeze.
From a distance I watch you warm up in your white t-shirt, black shorts, black socks and red cleats. The Falcons may have been your passion, but today’s game is with your Band of Brothers. They were just as committed and in love with the game as you were.
Brian is running you guys through warm-ups. Tony is looking on with quiet intensity. He speaks a word here or there to one player or another. He wants you all sharp and focused but not out of control. It takes balance to go 90+ minutes.
A few moments later Pete starts warming up the keeper. It’s not Allman this time. He’ll have his chance on another day, but today is special. The Kid is warming up. He’s full grown now, not how you left him. Six foot two, 190 pounds, cat quick, aggressive and fearless. Tony sure knows how to push all your buttons. You’ll be twice as fierce playing in front of your little brother.
Warm-ups are done. You peel off your white Aztec warm-up shirt and a few of the female spectators admire your six pack. Then you pull your lucky black Hooters t-shirt over your head, and last of all, your red #12, tucked in front but hanging lose in the back, Bombers style.
The back line, you on the left, Bish and Brian in the middle, Mikey on the right. Guys will go in and out in the midfield and up top, but the back 4 is set. Phil is at d-mid, Nick attacking (“gooooooo Niko” echoes each time he’s over the ball) with Boyce and JC running the wings, Billy and Shane will start up top.
The ARs already checked you guys in. Bob has the stands and Jeff is all alone on the far side. I blow my whistle, I have the middle.
I look younger to you. No beard, 185 pounds, a full head of unruly, curly hair (just like Drew’s) that’s lighter than you remember with no grays. I can run all day too.
There’s not much happening in the first 10 minutes. Two teams are feeling each other out, probing for weaknesses.
Then Boyce tries an overlap with Shane but the white defender challenges and dispossesses. He hits a quick outlet to his open midfielder and they transition to attack. As they cross midfield you yell “ball” and step to the attacker. He thinks he has you flat-footed but you’ve anticipated his move. When he plays it towards the flag you are already sprinting to the ball. 50/50, contact, lots of it, the way you like it. This ref lets you play (but he sure has his eyes on you). You come away with the ball, drop it to Phil, like hundreds of times before, and he turns up field. “Well done Kevin” floats in from Tony.
A few minutes later, a counter up the right side. Mikey has been beaten, Sean is moving in but Brian looks late to rotate. A one-two and the midfielder streaks in alone. Drew inches off his line. He’s reading the play closing….closing. Then the white player makes his move, Drew attacks hard. Swinging his feet to cover inside and dropping his left arm to cover his armpit. That’s where the shooter was going but it’s not there. The ball deflects to your feet and you clear it away. You smile. Your thoughts shift back to 1000 shots on the U10 net in the backyard. You’re proud.
Still later, white on the attack again. This time an overlap, you take ball, Brian rolls to the midfielder, there’s nothing. The forward tries a move, he goes for the nutmeg. Really? You trap the ball and the forward rolls over your back. He wants a call, I give him my best “you’re kidding me, right?” look. With the midfielder caught up the whole left side is open. You start forward, taking the space. The defender is holding, keeping his shape, trusting his help to chase you down, but not today, today you are flying. When you’re about 15 yards outside the box, hugging the sideline he finally steps to you, but it’s too late. You send in the early service. Shane chests it to Billy, who slots it inside the left post, 1-0.
Substitutes…attack and retreat. Eventually a corner to red. Brian is setting the ball, you slip forward on a back post run. Brian serves. It’s high…far. You rise up, you always had serious ups, and head the ball down and across the shifting keeper. 2-0.
More attack and defend. Cheers and groans.
Jeff points to his wrist. I’m having way too much fun. I look at my watch, 47:50, time to blow the half.
I watch you and your brother during the interval, intently listening to Tony. I always fantasized about the 2 of you playing on the same field.
I look around, take in the scene. You mom is chatting and laughing; Kata’s watching, a little, she likes the game, she doesn’t love it. She’s flirting with a cute boy. Steven Bekel and Tom Pope have pulled together their friends for a pickup game over on the J.V. field, sounds like they are having a blast. My water tastes as sweet as the finest wine. The air smells like it’s been sitting on a mountain top waiting to be breathed in for the first time. Friends, family sun and soccer, it’s a perfect day.
Just about time to start the second half. You put your hand on Drew’s back, whisper a word of encouragement. I might burst with pride. It takes all my effort to maintain my composure; I can’t let the opponents think I’m biased.
The second half starts. You spring Ciampa, he crosses to Ersing, a touch to Riz and bang, 3-0. Later Brian earns a free kick just outside the box and JC hits one of his patented lasers into the upper ninety that nearly rips the cord 4-0.
You make plays, Drew backs you up. You smile and strut. It’s amazing.
Then it comes…the shirt grab, right between me and Jeff. He flags it and points to his pocket… I get it. I reach in, reluctantly, and pull out the yellow card and hold it high. The two of us are trying to keep straight faces but your smile is bursting through. I mark it down on my slip. “Yellow Card #12 (Red) – always doing whatever it takes to win the game”.
There are other guys in other uniforms waiting to get in the game. DYS reversibles, Dash, Dogs, Bombers and Falcons. DaBrio and Ibanez are coming in up top, Kalle and Ox, Burge and TJ, even Jake is on the line. Dominic wants you to play up top for old time’s sake, you on the left, him on the right. Mr. Bishop and Mr. Burge are on the sidelines with their equipment bags. Courtney and the Destiny are waiting for a scrimmage.
I look down at my watch. 48:30.
I think I’ll just let this one go on for a while. No one will mind. We can flick the lights on if it gets dark….
Someday, somewhere, somehow, we will play this game. I can’t wait.