The Ball's Gotta Move

The Ball’s Gotta Move: Chapter Six

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Note: Josh Trott’s multi-part fictional Philadelphia soccer story continues with Chapter Four. New chapters will run on Mondays and Fridays. All the characters, soccer clubs, and schools in the story are fictional.

At Portside AC we won like all our games except there were two teams better than us. Playing those teams I got the red cards. I played to win and honestly, no freaking part of me was okay with losing. When kids on my team were shouting me down, I was yelling at them, because I didn’t know how they could be saying, “Calm down.” We were losing.

Looking at these kids, like, I came to look good. I wore my Noguiera jersey, I thought I’d rep the side of me that was like, let’s move, let’s work, not the Suarez side. That’s the, I’m going to win or I’m going to bite your arm off side. I’d hold that in for a couple of days. But I looked like a soccer player. Here at practice I seen this guy in these mesh shorts past his knees like he was playing ball in the 90s. Another guy was wearing cut offs. About four guys didn’t even have cleats.

You might be saying, “Chill, clothes don’t make the player.”

But if you saw the way it looked when these guys were receiving the ball and it just banged off their shin, or how they kicked it and it blasted sideways off their toe like something else.

Jefe had these kids circled up, stretching, going around and introducing themselves, name, grade, stuff like that. I didn’t listen to all that. I just thought, “Is this dude a soccer player?” And the answer every time except for about four times was no. We were probably going to lose. I hate losing.

Then coach said, “We’re running the two mile.”

Some of the kids groaned, and I figured that proved that they were soft. He had us walk two blocks to this track. The track itself is a little gravel between some big puddles, but there are these giant trees, like you could put ten Ewok villages in those jawns. “Alright, TIS kids, a lap is a quarter mile. How many equals two miles.”

We all said, “Eight.” I liked that. These random sized dweebs could do math like me.

“Now,” he said, “this is about the work you put in, so I don’t want anyone crying or walking. The work you put in on the front end comes back to you later, in the game, when there is five minutes left and you need to find something extra.”

We started out running, and I was going to show coach so I jumped to the front. It felt good pumping my legs, being way out in front, like I was winning a race or something. I was going to beat all these skinnies and fatties and even Stonehenge shaped Jefe.

Then after the first lap I thought I would slow a little, since I had a big lead. Also I was breathing a kind of hard. I did slow down and then I saw the Haitian kid and Jefe catching up with me. I tried to speed up but I was breathing kind of heavy. So I let them pass me. I was still number three. I’d catch them later.

About the end of the third lap my lungs were dying, and I wanted to walk, but then I remembered that the coach had said no walking, so I just slowed down. A big knot of kids came and passed me. Like ten. I looked back and only the big fat kid and the little fat kid were behind me. At this point I was barely moving, but I had to keep running or else coach would think I was lazy. It was the sixth lap that I walked. I just couldn’t go any further. Jefe was passing me, I think for the second time, and he was saying, “C’mon Jimmy, c’mon.”

He’s going by me, up on his toes, his shoulders straight and his arms crooked ninety degrees. Same speed he started. Something wrong with the dude, I guess. I started running again, and then the big fat kid passed me. He was humping along, fat jiggling on his hips, and he passed me. I tried to find something to catch and pass him but it wasn’t there.

Then I hear the footsteps of mini fatty behind me and I’m like, what’s going on. I cross in front of coach, and he says one more lap and that feels like twenty miles. Still I tried. Lungs on fire. I finished, not at a sprint, but at a jog. Heaving. Then I went over by the bleachers and sat. Next thing I know, I’m heaving up my breakfast. I looked over at coach trying to show him that I thought he was an insane torturer on the level of a vampire king or something, but he was laughing at me with his eyes.

He even said, “Didn’t run that much this summer, O’Wiley?”

I couldn’t find the edge to say anything. Crap, I couldn’t find the breath.

Honestly, what happened next was the worst practice of my life. Coach said that all of us — except for Toussaint and Jefe who had finished the run he said under thirteen minutes — all of us were lazy and we’d see the results when we started losing.

It made me mad. He said that everyone would get on the team but that if we didn’t work we wouldn’t play. Then we started playing a keep away game and my touch wasn’t there because I was still tired from the run and my shins started hurting. Jefe was saying, “Focus, Jimmy, focus.”

The ball came to me again, and took a hard hop coming off the field that was more of a bump collection, like the earth had goosebumps, and banged off my shin and out of the square. “Get in the middle,” Jefe said. I got in but instead of running to get the ball I just stood there, looking as they passed around. After they completed like four passes, they all started yelling at me. Like, “Do something, there’s no drill if you don’t try.”

Then coach saw it and he said, “Jimmy, go run a lap.”

I was already tired. That’s why I wasn’t running to get the ball in the keep-away. I looked at him. I walked over to the sideline and then I started jogging. Slowest jog I ever did. I was basically walking except the motion, with my arms bent.

Coach says, “That’s NOT running.”

I picked it up for a couple of yards, and then he looked away, talking about something with a player and I slowed down. Then I saw him about to look over so I sped up. Eventually I finished the lap. We ran full field and coach put me at left back. Said I was too out of shape to be a mid.

End of practice, he had us line up. When he blew his whistle we jogged. On the next blow we ran and the next we sprinted. Then he had us walk. Over and over. I was already done so the sprinting never happened for me. The crazy thing was big fatty was still moving. I was trying to figure out how he could be legit sprinting while I was huffing and actually dying. Only one I was still beating was mini-fatty but I might not have that tomorrow. Mini-Fatty has this face that looked like he was absolutely disgusted with himself for getting into this situation. Plus, in the kick around he wasn’t even a soccer player. Ball goes to him, it’s the end of the keep away. More like go-away, like he’s toeing the ball around, can’t trap it.

My shins were hurting a bit, and when practice was finally over, I got on my bike, but I barely peddled, just took my time going home. Got home, ate like four balls of bobo Cheerios and went to play FIFA. I was too tired to think about this team. This corny team.

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