Soccer, the sport I started playing when I was four years old. After almost 14 years of playing the sport I loved, we were playing Ocala Vanguard in the District tournament for my high school soccer team, Leesburg; if we lost it would be game over for me and my 15 other senior teammates. We knew we had to play strong just to have a chance against them, and oh what a game it was. February 12, 2010, it was time to put that Leesburg orange and black jersey on. We stepped off the bus at the Vanguard stadium in Ocala; I could hear the screaming fans cheering on the teams that were already playing before us.
I walked along the concrete path toward the stadium entrance with my soccer bag strapped along my shoulders, and I smelt that nice cool breeze and thought to myself “It’s a nice night to play some soccer. ” We walked all the way to the visitor’s bench and started putting our equipment on. I tied up my soccer cleats extra tight, and had a sense it was going to be a long night. In our previous game of the district tournament we edged Lake Weir 4-1, yet we get off to shaky start, letting them score the first goal.
After I scored the first goal for my team with a diving header off of a corner kick it really changed the momentum around and we dominated the rest of the game. We knew for sure as a team, we couldn’t fall behind tonight and expect to come back against the number one seeded team in the district. It had been about two weeks earlier when we faced up against Vanguard for the second time, and it was their senior night, we had a total of 11 yellow and 2 red cards that night in a 7-3 loss.
Many of our players, including me, were mad about how that game turned out and boy were we excited tonight, looking for some payback. We started out that night with our traditional warm ups, running like crazy to get our blood pumped up and our mind in the game. Always after warm ups when we were down, coach wanted to make sure we were sweating; he always said that’s the key to tell if you warmed up well. After introducing the players and coaches, the referee called the captains for the coin toss, and I started just going over what I needed to do tonight to help get my team to a victory.
The ref blew the whistle and it was time for the beginning kickoff. I was starting center midfield for tonight, a position I have played all my life. The role seemed very suited to me, since I was very skinny and had great endurance, center midfield requires the most running, and I did a lot of it that night. Right before the game started I thought to myself that no matter what I am going to put my whole heart into this game. We started the game off in our low pressure defensive scheme, trying to keep Vanguard`s talent from beating us.
They scored eleven goals on the previous two games of the season, and we practiced all week including the weekends, watched their game film, we made sure we were ready for tonight`s game. They game begin just like the previous two had, tough and physical play, I was running my lungs out trying to keep up with their players and I just needed to relax and play Leesburg soccer. We fought and kept them at bay playing the best low pressure we had all year, waiting for them to make a mistake and then we were going to capitalize on it.
The cheering of our fans fueled our efforts that night, we kept stopping them from getting anywhere near our goal to shoot on us. We stole the ball from them as they tried to attack our goal and we quickly were on the counter attack, a few quick passes and them I chipped the ball over the defenders head, I saw Demetri sprint full force after the ball and kicked it at the goal; the ball bounced off the goalie as he tried to save it then Demetri kicked it into the goal. I jumped in the air with glee and excitement with a huge smile on my face. Our whole team of players, coaches and fans screamed with joy.
It was a position that none of us expected to be in; we were beating Vanguard 1-0. The adrenaline really kicked it after that goal, and we continued to play at the best of our ability. As Vanguard continued to try to score I kept driving their players out of bounds, keeping them in front of me, not allowing them at all to pass me. You could see the frustration in their eyes and the way they played was different than how they played at the beginning of the game. Vanguard was running around like chickens with their heads cut off, not playing in a very tactical manner at all.
We held onto our 1-0 lead heading into halftime, we all ran over to the bench with sweat dripping down our faces, and dirt on our jerseys, the coach only said one word, “Good”. It was a very emotional halftime as we discussed the possibilities that we might actual win this game, there is a chance we can win the district title. The coach continued to talk strategy and how he wanted us to play in the second half. From the bench I could hear the Vanguard coach yelling at his players, and how I was thankful not to be over there dealing with what he had to say to his team.
After getting some water and resting for a few minutes, the refs blew the whistle and it was time for the second half. We huddled up together and did our quick chant “Do Work” and we all ran onto the field into our positions. The game would end up being a tale of two half’s. In the second half, we played a lot less aggressive that how we had played in the first half, and it cost us. It’s that mentality that gets in your head that you are winning and you should not try as hard; we played very sloppy soccer in the second half and I myself didn’t run as hard as I had in the previous half.
Vanguard came out with a chip on their shoulder and anger inside their bodies. They attacked us from all angles and played like how they were supposed to, passing, shooting and scoring. The intensity of the game picked up and our luck with holding Vanguard scoreless was gone when there left forward shot the ball right over my foot and then into the right corner passed our goalkeeper. The score now was tied 1-1 and I could start to see the change in momentum as the Vanguard players cheered and we started arguing with each other. It reminded me of the exact situation earlier in the first half when we scored.
We woke up and played back with the same determination that we had in the first half, and I was finally moving the ball down the field for our offense to score, but we were unable to get a goal into the back of the net. With only 15 minutes left in the game, I knew it was crunch time, live or die, score or go home type of situation. My jersey felt like it weighed twenty pounds with all the sweat bearing down on it. Vanguard continued to press their big, fast and strong guys up the field putting pressure on our defense, and when they scored that second goal, our whole team spirit just seemed to die.
Vanguard`s talent had finally broken through just like in the earlier games against us. Now we were the ones losing and it was our turn to score. Yet we had trailed through most of our games anyway, so this was familiar situation. Vanguard continued to improve on their play in the second half and shut down our offense as we tried to score. Our coach took our one of our midfielders and put an extra forward in to try and help score but that left our dense even more in jeopardy. Vanguard would eventually score one more in the net with three minutes left.
Those last few minutes of soccer seemed like an eternity, we tried whatever way to score but it was not working then dealing with the fact that we were at one time winning this game and that I could’ve done more than how I played in the second half, our whole team could’ve. The final whistle blew and the game was over, Vanguard 3 Leesburg 1. As we slowly walked over to our coach, the emotions started to kick in with me, this was it, it’s over, I will never play another real time competitive soccer game, since I knew I wasn’t going to be play college soccer.
My team was filled with 15 seniors and it was all mostly their last soccer game too. The coach talked about how proud he was off and how great it was to watch us play this great team. I started to cry, I can only look back and say it was because I loved playing soccer and it is like losing a person you love, you will never see them again, that was why I cried. The rest of my teammates cried along with me, some of them even harder, and as we walked back to the bus to go home, our friends and family members comforted us and told us what an amazing game we played and how enjoying it was to watch.
Even my twin sister ran up and gave me a hug and said “Great game brother”. The first fifteen minutes on the bus ride home was quiet, we were trying to take in the game and reflect on what each of us could’ve done better, I had some moments on field come back to me and I wish I had those moments back; I would’ve played them differently. We all finally calmed down and were relaxed, I talked to the rest of my teammates and instead of focusing on that game we just played against Vanguard, we just talked about the season we had and how fun it was.
We reflected on the funny moments on the season, putting a banana in Tim`s mouth while he was sleeping, eating at the shack after every home game, me scoring all those diving headers. It was like we were all moving on in our life, like how you feel after you graduate from high school; you look back on the memories. I had played soccer with these guys for many years, and we had some great times together. I will always remember the times I spent with these players but mostly ill remember how hard we played in what was the last high school soccer game of my career, I will never forget that night.