Practice is over, but the keeper lingers. He stands in an open space, two soccer fields, back to back, surrounded by pine woods. He stays near the goals at the middle of the park.
Everyone is gone, but he waits. The sun is setting on a hot, late summer day.
Soon the shooter arrives, walking slowly from the woods, absently juggling a ball which had been booted off the field earlier. The keeper takes his spot on the line. Clearly this visit is expected.
Without saying a word the shooter touches the ball slightly ahead and steps forward, ripping a shot low and hard to the keepers left. The keeper extends fully and catches the ball, bounces up and rolls it back to the shooter, a few yards outside the box.
He takes a touch and then blasts another, high, the keeper throws his hands up and parries, the ball deflects up and the keeper leaps high to catch it at the top of his jump, as he’s been trained, with one knee up to create space.
He rolls it back gently, a one timer, a right foot save.
On it goes, each shot a challenge, but just within the keepers reach.
Somehow the shooters face remains in the shadows, but clearly the keeper is familiar with him. The distinctive gait, the bright red cleats, he’s comfortable with this presence.
The keeper is concentrating deeply. Each shot is a little harder. He’s sweating, working hard, but the shooter hardly appears to be extending himself.
The keeper gives no ground but yet he knows these shots are well placed. He can reach each one, but it’s a little harder each time.
As he concentrates even more it seems to the keeper that the scene has shifted. The net is smaller, the keeper is smaller; the shooter too is smaller. He’s no longer at the field; he’s in the back yard. The bright sun reflects off blonde hair.
The shooter is placing the ball on the spot. Time for PK shoot-out, it’s 0-0!
The shot, the save, 1-0 to the keeper. The little boy’s excitement grows.
The next shot is just out of his reach and finds the side netting 1-1.
The next shot is to his left, he gets a fingertip on it but it hits the inside of the post and goes in. The shooter is up 2-1.
The keeper thinks “he’s going to come down the middle this time….hold your ground”
Sure enough, right down the middle, easy save, 2-2, the shooter grins.
He set’s up for the final shot. Push or pull? The keeper guesses correctly and dives hard to his right, he extends fully and gets his fingers on it, a little more solid than before, when the ball hits the post this time it deflects away. The keeper pumps his fist and jumps up, he’s going to run in the house and tell mom and dad…
The sun dips behind the trees, they are back at the field, in shadow now. “Time to go” the first words spoken by the keeper, a nod and a smile from the shooter, but his hazel eyes look sad.
“Same time tomorrow?” the keeper asks, the shooter smiles, fully this time, happy, and nods. The keeper watches as he walks back towards the woods. There’s a ball on the far sideline. “A little help?”
The shooter reaches the ball and wheels suddenly setting it with his left and striking it with his right. The keeper, still near his line is in good position, he takes a step and leaps, the shot is just out of his reach, under the bar, inside the post, upper 90 far post from 30 yards away.
When the keeper turns back the shooter is gone.
“I’ll get that one tomorrow” he thinks as he gathers his equipment and walks away.