Waking up in a sweat - a product of the mono that I’m slowly shaking off - a mere eight hours after I’d fallen asleep, I knew that things were going to be a little rough. The tasting room where I work (I pour fermented apple cider for a living) had done an unofficial shit-load of business the previous day; my feet were sore and my wonky ankle (the left, for now) was feeling extra tender.
The morning was less than leisurely, partly because because we had an early match against Thundercats, the second-place team in our division, and mostly because now that I play soccer, I’m antsy as all hell on game-day until kickoff. I finally goaded my girlfriend, Maggie, out of bed at 6 AM, which was a little late to be sleeping in if you ask me - we did have a game starting five hours later. Coffee and powerballs courtesy of Mudhouse Coffee calmed my nerves for a bit, and at 10, Andy (of Pint for the Pitch fame), Stephen (no affiliation with Pint for the Pitch and lacking any fame whatsoever), Maggie and I left Charlottesville for the field sitting just behind Crozet Elementary School.
Sitting in the side of a hill, the field presented a few problems. Any time the ball went out of bounds on the downhill side, it invariably rolled twenty yards into underbrush and had to be picked out and carried up the slope to the touchline. In a supposed effort to keep this from happening, the grass was a few inches longer on that side, causing it to be a markedly slower field the closer you got to the downhill touchline. The penalty box next to the playground and closer to the building was mostly the dirt you find in a baseball infield, with bits of gravel and school lunch refuse thrown in for good measure. The other side of the field was a bit nicer, if a little damp.
Jack was back from crutches; an injured foot had kept him from keeping the posts in last week’s 2-2 draw with the division leader. I’d taken up his role when it became apparent that I wouldn’t be running all over the field, having just finished the steroids the doc gave me and lacking the subsequent boost in cortisol.
I would be in the field while he assumed his position as goalkeeper. It would be the first time I’d played without being allowed to use my hands since I was 13. The first half did not go splendidly.
I’ve never been much of a runner. As the widest of the kids to play on any rec team as a youth, I’d always been handed a different colored jersey, some foam gloves, and the instructions of “keep it out of that goal right behind you.” I guess that, speaking statistically and geometrically, as long as I didn’t dodge any shots, I’d keep more of them out than the other players. When I was on a good team, this meant I got bored watching the other half of the field. When my team wasn’t so good, I got disheartened from untangling myself from nylon netting as I picked the ball from out of the back of goal. I guess I developed a feel for it, and when my defense was good, I was good. I even yelled “keeper!” from time to time as I trotted a few yards wide of the goal to collect on an opposing player’s heavy touch.
At no point however, did I need to bother myself with rushing up to meet an advancing striker. The few times I’d done it, the player would dribble around me (he or she had spent much more time developing a touch with their foot, after all) and place a shot very neatly in the nest of frayed cord. There would be an even longer walk to that ball, begun even before the goal was scored, that would link me to my team’s failings.
The mononucleosis coursing through my veins certainly didn’t help the situation, and within five minutes of running around right midfield, I was dragging. Twenty minutes in and I couldn’t remember which player I was marking or getting free from. I got one or two good passes in, a high-through ball which was also heavy and became the keeper’s, and I was dribbled around about fifteen times by a woman that I think had borrowed Ronaldo’s feet earlier that morning.
Luckily David subbed in for me, and I shotgunned an Emergen-C dry on the sideline, nodding while Andy, who understands those kinds of things, discussed the finer points on the progression of the game.
Then a low cross came in from Jack’s left, finding an open man square with the goal eighteen yards out. Jack came out in a way I would have never attempted in younger days, and just got his thumb on the chipped shot that climbed briefly past his outstretched gloves, and sunk below the crossbar just in time to hit the net. One nothing, Thundercats.
I brought myself on soon after, coming up front with Andy for a short time and quickly failing to reach a header that whizzed gently a couple feet over my head. Then I went to center mid, and didn’t make much of a presence there either.
I was waiting inside of the center circle for the counter attacks when Thundercats struck again. The cross came in from the same side, this time a few feet in the air. One of our centerbacks intercepted it, but instead of sending the ball skyward down our own field the four or five yards it would travel to make for a corner kick, it ended up being the cleanest accidental own-goal volley I’ve seen in person. Not a thing anyone could do - Jack had tracked the cross to block from the open man, the same one who had scored earlier, and David had made contact a good five yards short of its intended target.
I came off again, this time for the rest of the half, and the center of the field was better for it. The ball steadily moved up the field, trading possession every third pass. Late in the first half, Wiley made a cross from the right which was cleared low and directly into Ed, sitting atop the box. Ed took a swing with his cleat; it found its way through heavy traffic and past Thundercat’s keeper.
At the break, I shared my Emergen-C. Figuring mono to be much like scurvy, I took another in my bottle of water. Jack came over; he’d had enough of goal, and would I trade shirts with him? We both took our shorts off in the shadow of an elementary school, so I could wear the padded ones he’d fallen on a couple times in the first half.
I put on my black Everton away jersey and the gloves that David let me borrow. I made a little prayer that the ball would stay in the other half for the final forty five minutes of the game.
Being a goalie is much like being an airline pilot: long periods of boredom punctuated by brief moments of sheer terror. It helps that I have a short attention span, and often I’ll zone out of the game entirely until I notice the ball in the midfield, making its way towards me.
There was plenty to keep me entertained, however, as Thundercats crept into my box from one side, making long crosses from deep, usually targeting a player around the six yard line. Once or twice they would find that player, but they’d have no time to get a touch in before one of the back line intercepted. I only came out to meet a deep ball twice: once off to my right (I made an unnecessary sliding grab that was excited to me, if not my teammates) and once when someone decided to clear the ball from forty feet in front of Thundercat’s goal.
In the middle of the second half, Wiley took the ball and ran with it. When nobody stopped him he took it all the way to the right corner of the field. Finding that area to be a little congested, he dropped it to Andy. Andy sent the ball center to Stephen (who, having been mentioned twice in this blogpost, has earned a little fame.) Stephan nudged it to David at the six who sent it in. CHS Staff 2-2 Thundercats.
Things began to get a little frustrating for Thundercats at this point, having given up a two-goal lead, and they began to be a little mouthy with the ref.
Finally, around the eightieth minute, Wiley made another run, this time to the left. Not finding anyone open, he took the ball center, between his feet. As soon as he got a look, he slotted the ball with his right foot to the right of the keeper. The CHS Staff had taken a two goal deficit and turned it into a lead.
From there the ball bounced around ineffectually in the midfield, and when the ref whistled the three short blows, oh! the elation. And the Guinness.
Andy and I had a couple of the super-dry stouts as we watched part of the next game. Andy said something about high calorie/correct calorie advantages after a game, and that Guinness was a good choice for that. I just wanted to make a statement about how unfairly maligned this beer is for being too thick, too heavy.
"Stout" is a bit of an umbrella term used to describe an opaque beer. Palletwise, it runs the gamut of flavors. Sweet to dry and malt to hop, stout can be either bread in a glass or something more thirst quenching than water. There are some appended descriptor words often used to describe it, such as sweet/milk, oatmeal, bourbon barrel and Imperial, all meaning different and self-describing things.
Anywhere from four to fourteen percent alcohol-by-volume, they can be a session beer appropriate for post-active bodies like Andy and me after the match or something more likely to cause diabetic shock in players. It would at least gum up their throats.
Named simply and without appendage however, "stout" usually refers to a very dry version of low alcohol content that originated in Ireland. All the “creamy, full -bodied” adjectives used for the beer may be apt, but only for the head, which on draft (and in the widget-ed cans and bottles Guinness sells) is poured with nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide. The highly roasted raw malt used gives some acid to the beer, which while giving it a sharp espresso-like flavor and aroma, also adds to the perception of dryness.
As we sipped surreptitiously from mugs and scouted out next week’s opponents, our bodies recovering from a beating we hadn’t subjected ourselves to in fourteen years, I wondered about the two goalies facing other other from a hundred yards away. What was their headspace like? Did they swing wildly between wishing to make a great save and hoping the ball wouldn’t even approach their box? And did they wish that, instead of having water in the bottles by the goalpost, they might have a Guinness to steel their resolve in a shutout.