Thursday, March 31, 2011

International Friendly

Fiona Shoots Over the Largest Defender
Coach Tom returns to our pages with a heartwarming story of how football transcends language and culture, and helps to makes the world a friendlier place:

I just returned from my annual trip with a group of US students to Honduras. Through Grace the Americas, a charity supported by volunteers working to make a difference in the lives of those who live in rural Latin America, we spend a week building a home for a family living without adequate housing. It's also become a tradition while we're in Latin America to play a game of footie against the locals.

This year we got upgraded from the small pitch (a generous term, as it's usually half submerged by floodwaters and constantly surrounded by a moat of slimy filth that would keep even the most exuberant Brazilian from storming the pitch) to the town’s main field. This seemed to my eyes to be roughly 110' x 75', although without any lines I was making  a best guess, and even had a small section of concrete “stands.” Notably, it also featured a number of sizable cow patties and, naturally, a cow, which soon moved off for quieter pastures as Los Gringos took the field.

Joe Looks to Dribble Around Defenders, Garbage and Cow Patties
This year our group from the US featured two varsity boys and five varsity girls; the other five players on the team consisted of three girls, our translator, Franklin, and me. Our opponents were a mix of Honduran boys and girls who averaged 13 years of age. In other words, it was an even match.

Team USA came out strong and found the flanks easy pickings for penetration and crosses. We jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead and the only work Franklin had to do in goal was to touch the ball on back passes (yet he still managed to look quite dapper in his canvas work gloves). 

Tim Misses a Header and Succumbs to the Honduran Heat
Soon, though, the Hondurans fought back with the addition of Zapatos Rojos! Not only did this young man have red cleats but he also sported shinguards, marking him as an obvious ringer (even we were only wearing sneakers) who soon made his mark on the game. Two quick goals from Rojo (even if blatantly offside – but this was a friendly so…) turned the game into a game.

Amber Passes to Tim and Nimbly Steps Over Some Kid's Stuff

Even a defensive adjustment (which I recall went something like this: Me: "Morgan, you mark that kid with the red shoes, he’s too fast for me." Morgan: Ok, Tim: I got your back old man."  OK, Morgan didn’t actually say "old man," but it was implied) only slowed the tide as the first half ended 4-4. The highlight of the half was probably Morgan skinning a young Honduran player down the sideline with a slick move that left the defender on his butt, much to the delight of the ever-growing crowd of classmates. Amber was surely the first half MVP with a number of surefooted maneuvers and solid crosses that kept the ball in our opponents’ end.

Team Members Seek Out Any Shade at Half Time,
Including Next to the House in the Background
Team Honduras made a major personnel shift at the half, as most of their boys were replaced with girls. Not to condescend, but it wasn’t much of a match after that. Team USA kept the ball on the Honduran half of the pitch and did a fine job controlling the pace and connecting passes.  The highlight must surely have been my split pass to a streaking Fiona who slipped it past the 'keeper.

Coach Tom High Fives Fiona After Her Goal,
 which He Assisted with a Delicate Split Pass
I did love Joe’s goal celebration when he blew kisses to the crowd – and so did the crowd. Kudos also to our non-football players, Ashley, Emily and Zoe for acquitting themselves nicely and also a belated yellow card to Fiona for dissent: when the 14-year-old referee (mistakenly?) awarded Honduras a throw-in she yelled “What?! That’s Bulls#it!” Love the fighting spirit, Fiona, but as noted above, this was a friendly!

Most importantly, we awarded the game ball to Honduras and the kids of Urraco Pueblo. What a great reception for our bunch and a reminder of how great sports can be at connecting people of vast differences. Truly, the world’s game lived up to its name.  

This is farlieonfootie for March 31.

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