Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A Game of Whack-a-Mole Started at a Soccer Match

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By Scott Martin

As a player, coach, or parent we’ve all experienced “those” games. You know, when it seems like the soccer gods are having fun with you. Not when play is poor. But when things you can’t explain happen . . . and keep happening. I had my most bizarre one of those experiences last night.

For the high school where I assist, Stevens Point Pacelli, it was Parent’s Night. Temps had dropped into the upper 40s but there was no call for rain after intermitted showers during the day. It was a great fall evening in the Midwest.

I always like to stand at the kickoff spot to evaluate our opponent as they prepare for the match. Sometimes I call groups like our backs over to make a point. Yes, part of my action is to send a message of “I see you” but my primary purpose is to get a feel for the other team. I’ve been doing this for years and far more times than not, I’m able to assess their tendencies. Try it.

True to form, our opponent from Northern Lutheran High School attacked down our left flank with individual play. Their objective was to first attack directly into our penalty box, but if pressured they would serve the ball across our goal. We countered this with a backline of four that played as a compressed diamond. And it worked.

Our attack included three front runners that sought to probe and seek weaknesses. And there were weaknesses We always give our fronts the option to change positions, to even combine in one area leaving a flank empty if that is what gives us the upper hand.

So, back to the whack-a-mole analogy.

Ten minutes in **POP** went a heavy hip by one of our backs and a penalty was awarded. Down 1-0 we knew that their keeper tended to hold his line so we used a quick counter-attack and tapped in the tieing goal five minutes later.

Then **POP** another free-kick was awarded to the left of our box. The ball was played to a runner 30 yards from the goal for a first-time shot and goal. Again, five minutes later, we tied the game at two.

Another **POP** happened inside ten minutes to go in the half on a pinball carrom inside the six from a corner and we went down 3-2. No problem as we scored again five minutes later.

**POP** another critter raised up inside our box and a penalty was granted with under a minute to go. But this time our goalkeeper dove to his left to push the shot wide. The half ended even at three.

Oh, settle in because we’re just getting started with the crazy mole because 10 minutes into period two **POP** an indirect kick was granted just outside the top of our box. Our wall of four was set. Suddenly, a runner from their defense sprinted toward our goal and received a flicked ball just over our wall and slammed it home for their fourth goal.

Yup, five minutes later we countered quickly and tied the score.

Another **POP** followed by another **POP** and another **POP** happened and within 10 minutes on the clock, we were down 7-4. A backbreaker, it sure seemed like it. Behind my mask, I was chuckling, pleading with the soccer gods to look down favorably upon us.

Then ***POP*** and another penalty kick. But again, Sam knocked it wide.

At seven minutes to go we down by two. With under three to go the lead was cut to one. And with 10 seconds to go . . . a ball was placed too hard through their defense and their keeper smothered it to end the match.

Afterward, I told the kids that it wasn’t the seven goals against us that had me concerned. Our backs are all sophomores and their bodies have yet to develop into more agile turns which forced them to lose half a step and have to chase their attackers toward our goal. No, it was the near 50 balls player to either the opposing team or out-of-bounds that worked me up.

It must be noted that in no way did the officials do a poor job. No one complained. It was those damn moles. **POP** Whack!

Let’s simplify the game.


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