Our last game in Brazil was Wednesday vs. the Aguas de Lindoia team in their municipal stadium. We were wondering whether fatigue would make us weaker, or would the stuff we were learning make us better in this last opportunity to play.
The town’s famous for the quality of its drinking water, and we took advantage of it. Near the stadium there’s a fountain where water flows day and night. All the town’s people can stop by a fill a bottle or just drink out of the spigot, and we did the same.
Aguas de Lindoia team drew its first match 2-2 vs. Socorro and the game looked to be played at a slower pace than ours. They also featured María, a girl playing their #5 one of their volantes – the defensive midfield position reserved for the most skilled and visionary players.
The game started and we immediately found ourselves pressed into
our own half. I think a good way to figure out how a soccer game is going is to simply mark where the ball is over time. In whose half is it? How deep? On this day it seemed it was hovering around the edge of our center circle, so about ten yards in. Although this wasn’t favorable, what was also true is that Aguas was not getting much deeper: their chances at goal were few and pressured. We were learning how to counter the relentless ball movement of Brazilian teams: our forward players were disrupting the samba rhythm of the back line, forcing them into hurried play and mistakes that gave us possession. Luke, one of our biggest and most successful players at home, was having a terrible week on the pitch. He looked slow and not confident chasing at the smaller more agile opponents and quickly gave up the pursuit, like a dog after squirrels. But today he worked harder at pressured their back line into mistakes, his only moment of ignominy coming when he challenged María for a 50-50 ball and was knocked to the turf. Our four midfielders went toe-to-toe with their counterparts and had long of periods of time where they played even. In fact it took a home-town ref and a bad call to open the scoring, a penalty late in the first half which María calmly slotted away.
The second half went even better for us as we continued to tip the scales back in our direction, even stringing together ten passes at one point and threatening the Aguas penalty area a couple of times. Our goalkeeper Tiger pulled off a string of outstanding saves and we were in the game. We were playing this Aguas team just about even. In Brazil, the Viking Hammer had lifted its game so fast, so far that on the last day of our tournament we were playing our opponents almost even. Byron sliced into their areas and was tripped as he crossed the eighteen, only for the ref to mark it just outside. This and the first-half penalty to Aguas were about the difference in the game, although Aguas added a second on a great shot into the top left corner to make the score 2-0.
After the final whistle a bit of a party broke out as Amory and the
other parents had gotten some candy and pastries to share with both teams. Trophies were presented by Tony Rickey, the tournament organizer. Aguas won it, and we felt great that we played them so close. We all took photos together and our boys traded some shirts, giving others away. I sought María out and gave her a USA jersey and her face lit up. She had met players from the Oregon women’s team some time ago and has dreams of playing in America someday. Any American soccer program would be lucky to get her.