Photo: Earl Gardner
“You should try out! You always score for your team,” she said.
“That’s in an over-35 men’s league. It’s like pee-wee soccer, everyone scores,” I rebutted.
And so, with my wife’s encouragement, I reluctantly paid my $30 and signed up for the Sons of Ben’s River Cup Team Tryouts.
After all, it was a chance to live out a dream and play on the pitch at PPL Park in the annual fundraising match between the Sons of Ben and the Union Staff. Still, the negative thoughts came immediately: There’s no way I’m going to make the team. I’m old. I really don’t want to embarrass myself. What am I doing! It’s not like I’d never played soccer before, but I was only above average in high school, and I mistakenly thought I could walk-on at my Division I college. While stationed overseas in Italy with the Navy, I played lots of pickup soccer and played for our own little Team USA against teams from other NATO countries, but how could I stack up against a fair amount of former college players and former pros like Hackworth, Vartughian and Burke?
As the tryouts approached, some nerves crept in, which were familiar from my days trying out as a walk on. My wife would ask if I was excited, and my boys started to ask about it too. I tried to downplay my emotions, but inside, it was turning into a bigger deal than I had expected.
As I showed up for my first tryout at YSC (the third out of four offered), my heart sank a little. I was definitely one of the older guys there, and just in the warm-up kick-arounds, I could tell there was a lot of quality — not to mention the fact that there were over 70 people trying out. If that wasn’t enough, I had packed the wrong boots and had to beg my wife throw to the boys in the car and bring them over.
It was about that time I realized Sheanon Williams and Mike Lahoud were there to observe and help choose the team. Now I knew I had made a mistake. I was sure to embarrass myself in front of professionals. Unfortunately, my wife and boys hung around to watch, so I couldn’t hightail it out of there.
After a few nervous touches, I settled down and began to enjoy the game. It’s one of the things that I love about soccer. The second the game starts, you forget about everything outside those white lines. Constant motion, creativity, split-second reactions…it tends to put your brain on auto-pilot.
For the last tryout (my second), I played decently, but was struggling with a slight groin strain. I had to sit the last 15 minutes as Peter Pappas watched on, and despite feeling more comfortable, I was pretty certain my performance was nowhere near the top 20 percent or so required to make the cut. Nonetheless, I was happy that I had tried out for the team and was pleased to know that even without making the team, I would get a free ticket to the game. We would have to wait about two weeks until the final roster was announced, but I made it clear to my family that I was sure I was not going to make the cut.
…And more nerves
As the deadline drew closer, I started to get more anxious. What if…No, there’s no way. But, wouldn’t it be amazing if I got to play at PPL Park? So, you can imagine how I felt when I read the first line of the email from Corey Furlan:
“On behalf of the Sons of Ben and the Coaching Staff: Let me be the first to congratulate you on being selected to the 2013 Edition of Sons of Ben FC.”
Holy [insert expletive]! I made the team.
In that moment, I realized how much, deep down, wanted to make the team. The experience was made that much sweeter the next day when my 7 year old son said, “Way to go dad! I knew you were going to make the team. You see, you just have to try your best and good things happen.”
Since then, we’ve been playing in the YSC men’s league. It’s been a lot of fun to play with some new faces. This is a great bunch of guys (and girls) and I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity. I know I will have a hard time sleeping Saturday night and hope that we will put on a good show.
Stay tuned for Part Two: The River Cup gameday experience and be sure to come out and support your SOBs and heckle the Union Staff on Sunday at 4 pm! Feel free to heckle me as well.