Soccer stardom on full display

Published 3:07pm Thursday, December 12, 2013

One of my proudest athletic moments happened on a soccer field in Bay Minette, during my first year in Alabama, when I was 10 years old.

I’m not kidding. That’s how utterly un-athletic I am. My best memory of actively playing sports was as a fourth-grader, on a city league team, almost 20 years ago.

I was playing for the Street’s Restaurant team with a lot of folks I would later meet again in middle school. I normally played fullback and was the last line of defense before the goalie saw action.

In this game, I had been moved to midfield, or halfback, whatever you want to call it. Midfielders were similar to fullbacks, except they were allowed to score from their positions and fullbacks couldn’t.

I had some scoring experience from other leagues in which I had played, and I wasn’t about to miss my opportunity to shine in this game. I just needed to wait for the right moment.

Let me explain this before I go further into this story. I was a rather shy kid, who suffered from low self-esteem, until I got on a soccer field. In my mind I was Pelé and no one was better than me. I now know that wasn’t the case. Kids I played with in that youth league went on to play college soccer and I didn’t, but on that day, on that field, nobody could beat me.

So, I waited for an opening in the opponents’ coverage and took off. Because of the previous paragraph, I decided not to pass the ball to two players running along side me on the wings. Instead, I was determined to take the ball halfway up the field by myself.

I dribbled past some defenders and outran others until just the fullbacks and goalie remained in my path to glory.

Both of the other team’s fullbacks converged on me and I thought I was doomed. They each ran at me, but I didn’t change direction. Right before they reached the ball that I had kicked inches ahead, they collided into one another and the ball squirted past them.

I was free, with only the goalie in my way. I excitedly cocked my leg back and unleashed a fury of a kick that headed toward the left goalpost.

I thought the ball was going to hit the goalpost, but instead it hit just to the inside of that and curled past the goalie, into the net.

I had scored a goal, one of many in the illustrious career, within my own head. Not only had I scored, but I had scored it unassisted from midfield. I was all tingly inside.

To this day, I look back on that goal fondly. I love soccer and it was the first organized sport I was introduced to as a first-grader in Hillsboro, Ore.

I played for a team called the “Cobras” there for years. We were a good team and I enjoyed playing in youth tournaments all over the area. I learned a lot about the game there and it was already a very popular sport.

Then I moved to the Gulf coast — Loxley to be exact — and things changed. I still played soccer, but a new sport was making its way into my consciousness. Football would soon take over as my favorite sport.

I still catch Major League Soccer and English Premier League games from time to time, but I don’t change my schedule to catch them, like I do for college or pro football. Soccer, or “football” as it’s called everywhere else, is the most popular sport in the world and I still respect it.

In almost a year here in Atmore I’ve noticed that none of the schools have soccer, and while there is an outdoor league in the fall, I don’t know how popular it is.

I’m sad that soccer — a sport that is gaining popularity all over the country — seems to still suffer from a lack of interest not only in this area, but all over the South.

I realize that soccer and American football basically share the late summer and fall seasons and that makes it tough here. I admit that football is, and will probably remain king for as long as I’m alive. I mean, I’ve already admitted that I watch it more, and I don’t expect that to change.

I also realize that soccer can be boring at times (although not nearly as bad as baseball). Nobody wants to sit down with a beer and hot wings to watch a nil-to-nil tie. (That’s Britishy for 0-0.) I just would like to see a little more interest in a sport I feel gets forgotten.

Let’s not forget the athleticism involved in professional soccer. These men and women run up and down the field for 45 minutes at a time, almost non-stop. I’m losing my breath just thinking about having to walk to my car later. The training involved and the stamina needed is just, by itself, worthy of applause.

It’s also an international sport that can be used to bridge gaps in cultures. That’s why I hope soccer sees a surge here soon.

I hope that the new indoor soccer league proposed by the Atmore YMCA can infuse some excitement into the sport, especially with football season nearly behind us.

The season will start Jan. 10, according to CEO Paul Chason, and sign-ups should start by the end of next week, he said.

Indoor soccer is a great way to introduce kids to the game. They can get the basics without having a huge field to run across. It’s just pure fun.

I hope to see a bunch of Atmore area kids indoors this season, playing soccer, and maybe in the future the sport will become more popular.

 

Dale Liesch is a news reporter for The Atmore Advance. You can email him at dale.liesch@atmoreadvance.com.

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