Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Favorite Soccer Memory of 2009

Today being New Year's Eve, there are a lot of posts going up on blogs about the year that was. For me there are lots of good soccer memories for 2009:
  • Fulham qualifying for the Europa League on the back of their best Premier League Finish Ever.
  • U.S. National Team making the Confederations Cup Final--their first FIFA international tournament final appearance (even if it was the Confederations Cup)
  • U.S. 2-0 Spain--what a great win
  • Jonathan Bornstein's header to assure U.S. wins the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying
  • The MLS Rookie Class--man they were good
  • The Charlie Davies #9 9th Minute Display in the U.S.-Costa Rica qualifying match and at other MLS venues across the country that week
  • DC United's Ben Olsen in what turned out to be his final season as a player
The list could go on and on. There were some great memories this year.

But I think my favorite memory this year is one that maybe only 10 people saw this year. It doesn't involve any professional league, any professional player, not even college, high school or even premier level youth competitions. It took place on on a Sunday afternoon in September in a girls U11 match in which I was working as an assistant referee.

The memory goes like this: it is about 15 minutes into the second half. The play is going on in the far corner from my position in the other half of the field. The ball squirts in towards the keeper and she collects the ball and makes a big punt down field. The ball goes over the heads of the defenders and I start tracking along with the ball, as is my job. This young girl, her pony tail streaming behind her is chasing after the ball with this huge grin on her face. She collects the ball, dribbles twice and takes a shot that sails over the crossbar by about 6 feet--not even close. Her coach is dismayed, her teammates are dismayed, you hear this groan from the parents (they were on the side of the field opposite me). But I looked at this girl and she was just smiling away--not a care in the world. It didn't bother her that she missed a goal scoring opportunity--she was just smiling, playing the game.

That, to me, is what the game is all about, kids having a good time. It is easy to forget as fans of professional teams, fans of college teams or international teams, that soccer begins and ends with a bunch of people, young or old, kicking the ball around for fun. Everyday in America and around the world, you will find a kid, running after a ball, whether in an organized match with referees and coaches or a pick up game in the streets or park or beach, with a huge grin on his/her face. That is what soccer is all about--grinning kids.

That September Sunday didn't mean anything to any league--it was a recreational game with nothing on the line. Like I said, I would be surprised if 10 people saw the grin on this girls face; a girl whose name I don't know, wouldn't recognize her if she kicked me in the shin, but in that one brief six or seven seconds, she reminded me of why I love the game of soccer, why I referee and why I write about soccer:

Because it is fun!

So to that 10 year old girl with the big smile on her face--thank you for my best soccer memory of 2009 because it truly reminded me of why soccer is the Beautiful Game!!

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