Teamwork is Key
Dmitry received the wet, slippery leather checkered ball and ran with it close to his feet, pushing it forward with quick sharp kicks. He came to a halt digging his black cleat shoes into the muddy grass.
“Shoot it before they call the game!” said his friend Casey.
An attacker broke free of the defense and slowly approached Dmitry, hunched over and glaring.
I’d give Rick the ball if I thought he could make it in, thought Dmitry. He trapped the ball dead under his shoe and swung his leg back. The opponent skimmed the ball sending it spinning sideways. Dmitry winced in pain as the cleat of his rival’s toe met his bare shin. He quickly reached into his tall sock to put his shin guard back in place and limped off in pain.
Casey headed straight for Dmitry. “Are you alright? Try kicking the ball to Rick.”
“He always gets rid of it as soon as he gets it,” said Dmitry. “He doesn’t even aim for the goal.”
“We need to score. If they see lightning their going to call the game.”
Dmitry dropped backfield and leaned over, desperately grabbing the sweaty plastic of his shin guard through his muddy tube sock to cover him from the certain pain of another blow to his shin. He got the soccer ball again and blindly chipped it with the end of his toe towards the goal without aiming. The goalie slid to his knees, gathered the ground shot and tucked the ball safe to his body with gloved hands.
The whistle blew sounding that it was halftime.
The blonde headed Casey threw up his pale lanky arms, “What are you doing? That’s twice you could have kicked the ball to Rick. He was standing right there at the goal both times!”
Dmitry covered his mouth with the side of his hand and whispered. “He can’t play, if I give him the ball he’ll just screw it up.” Dmitry nodded sure Casey would understand what he meant.
“How do you know if you don’t give him a chance?” said Casey, grabbing a white Styrofoam cup from a small card table set up at the edge of the soccer field. He held the cup under an orange Igloo beverage dispenser full of lemonade and stabbed at its stubborn, stiff button. “You should give everyone a chance. That’s what coach says. That’s why he’s letting Rick play.”
“Not him, I‘m not giving the ball to someone who I know isn’t going to make it in,” said Dmitry. He grabbed a baggie of sliced oranges out of a little cooler sitting on the grass and sat down. “Hey, take a look at this.” Dmitry pulled back the top of his tall tube sock exposing his wound, showing Casey his scraped up shin and the dark dried blood inside of the sock.
“Ouch. How did that happen?”
“My shinguard keeps slipping around and I’m getting kicked in the shin.”
“I can help you with that problem,” said a small hurried voice from behind them. Both Dmitry and Casey spun around. It was Rick.
Dmitry watched as Rick ran away from them over to his parents, black shoelaces flopping in the breeze. Abruptly, Rick tripped over them, stumbling forward, but the clumsy player barely seemed to notice.
Dmitry slapped the palm of his hand to his forehead, closing his eyes. He sighed heavily. “You want me to pass the ball to him?” he said to Casey.
“He’s always in front of the goal.” Casey took a sip of his lemonade and his face twisted at its lack of sugar.
“We’re going to lose this one huh?” Dmitry peeled back the flexible skin of his last orange slice with his thumb.
Rick quickly returned as awkwardly as he had left with something tight in his grip. “Here,” he said to Dmitry. “Put these on.”
The ref blew the whistle signaling the players to get back on the field.
Dmitry took the funny looking socks and looked back up at Rick. “These are shinguards?”
“My mom got them for me after the game last week when she saw I was getting kicked in the shin so much.”
Dmitry waited till Rick was out of hearing range. “I just watched Rick trip over his own shoelaces.” He pointed loosely over at Rick and tossed his bag of orange peels back in the open cooler.
“Then tell him to tie his shoes,” shrugged Casey. He dropped his cup beneath the table. “No one’s losing and the score’s still zip to zip. Try passing the ball once in a while. We’re not a one man team”
“Teamwork, right," said Dmitry rolling his eyes.
His team, sporting green jerseys and red shorts started with the ball. Dmitry sprinted, legs wild and relentless with the toe of his cleats digging in to the soft muddy grass as he whooshed past Rick, deftly stealing the soccer ball from the other team. Here was his chance and it was time to score the first goal. A player challenged him and missed the ball, slamming their foot in to his shin. The unmovable plastic of the special tube sock he borrowed from Rick took the full force of the blow and Dmitry felt no pain. He paused for a split second with his foot on top of the ball and thought about his last attempt at scoring a goal before halftime. A thought rushed through his head, Last week Rick was getting rid of the ball, because he was afraid of getting kicked in the shin, but now we have the same shin guards. He broke free from the other teams’ guards and sprinted even closer to the goal.
The goalie in the distance stood ready, bent knees, clapping his hands, taunting Dmitry. “C’mon! Give it your best shot! You haven’t made it yet!”
Dmitry’s eyes narrowed in concentration as an ominous low rumble of thunder rolled across the sky.
Rick flew by him. “Pass it here! Pass it forward!”
Dmitry tapped the ball with the side of his foot. He smiled at the cleverness of his sneaky short range pass. The soccer ball spun out in front of Rick's feet. He watched Rick as he swung back his right foot, gritted his teeth and kicked as hard as he could. He nicked the side of the soccer ball, sending it out in front of his left foot.
“Follow it through! Kick it in!” said Dmitry, excited. The goalie stayed in his position with his head lowered and arms outspread.
“C’mon Rick! Kick it in!” said Casey from his position left of the goal.
Rick tamed the ball with the inside of his left foot and in one fluid motion; he lifted his leg in to a high back swing, slamming the ball with his instep. The back of the opposing team’s net flew outwards with the force of his goal followed by his shoe. Parents, brother and sisters cheered from the sidelines. Dmitry ran over to Rick and patted him on the back.
“Why did you pass it to me?” asked Rick. “You could have scored the goal yourself.”
Dmitry shrugged his shoulders, leaned over and knocked on the hard plastic through his socks. “These shin guards make both of us fearless and I couldn’t win the game by myself. Besides, I’ve missed every goal I’ve tried.” He patted Rick on the back again and smiled for the first time that day. “C’mon, let’s do that again.”