And The Best Men Won

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In union there is strength. Aesop

We are a brotherhood. An alliance of 16 champion warriors. We protect each other. Stand up for what’s right. Exile the wrong. We travel afar with black bags over our shoulders for one reason — to play the game of soccer. Our game of soccer. The best soccer there ever could be. To run with pride. To compete with integrity. To teach the young. To inspire the world.

Unity, to be real, must stand the severest strain without breaking. Mahatma Gandhi

But there are individuals in this life of ours who, fueled by their jealously and admiration gone amiss, fall prey to a desire to be just like you, Flames. And in doing so, they break. They buckle. They succumb to their frustration and become the lowest of the low. The spirit of sportsmanship no longer resides in your opponent’s heart, in his soccer play, and on his soccer field.

Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all. Alexander the Great

Your 2012 Strawberry Cup in Camarillo will never be forgotten…for so many reasons. This is your story:

Our road trip brought us through the strawberry fields to beautiful Pleasant Valley Fields Sports Park to face Chino Hills in Game 1 on Saturday. This game remained scoreless until foul after uncalled foul and a fourth quarter Flames red card sent your fury into action. With your composure collected, you finalized this game with a 2 to 0 shutout. I will not write the words of vendetta spoken from the mouth of your heartless rival as you lay broken on the field this morning. I will not replay your hopeless competition’s voice urging a Flames retaliation. Repeat is not worthy. 

Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable. Kenyan Proverb

The lunch special for today in Flames Camp City is a cheeseburger, chips, potato salad, pasta salad, fruit, and brownies. The price is you must belong to the best Select soccer team ever.

Game 2 on Saturday against Woodland Hills was just another step up our ladder of progress. Quarter 1 we climbed 2 goals, and then two more in Quarter 3 and 4, ending with Shutout No. 2 for the weekend and a 4 to 0 win.

Our Camarillo overnight trip always stays close to the heart. There’s just something so wonderful about having your hotel and so many great restaurants, a bagel shop, a Starbucks, a movie theatre, all of it and more just footsteps from each other. No car needed for after-game relaxation.

We meet Valencia Sunday morning and Keeper Cris claims another goal for himself as Valencia gives up an own goal in the first quarter, but scores soon enough to bring up a tie, 1 to 1. But by halftime, Flames, you lead 3 to 1, and then, well, it was just smooth sailing against an immature team with no hope as you played your game, kept up the pressure, intensity, took care of business, and sent yourself to that championship match you most deserved. Final score: 6 to 1, Flames.   

Once you’ve lived a little you will find that whatever you send out into the world comes back to you in one way or another. It may be today, tomorrow, or years from now, but it happens; usually when you least expect it, usually in a form that’s pretty different from the original. Those coincidental moments that change your life seem random at the time but I don’t think they are. At least that’s how it’s worked out in my life. And I know I’m not the only one. Slash

So here we stand on Field No. 1 before you. Our eighth championship match settles before us. How glorious it is to be here on this day defending our 2011 Strawberry Cup championship title on perfect grass. How great it is to see the life-size glimmering tournament trophy embracing that U16 champion plaque with 2011 and RC Flames and Seagraves, knowing we are just over an hour’s time away from taking the 2012 title just below it.

There is a destiny that makes us brothers: None goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own. Edwin Markham

You rival Chino Hills again in your final. It is time to play your way. The whistle is blown and your time begins to burn. It is a good half. You’re playing hard, dealing with injuries, and you’re on top of your game. But this meeting will be another test of your strength, your calmness, your collectedness, as your opponent begins their barrage of attacks, verbally and physically. In Quarter 2, Chino Hills scores in left open space and claims a one-point lead, 0 to 1.

After halftime, we head into 40 more minutes of hard play and angry intensity, with Chino Hills blatantly stalling this game, but with still plenty of foreseeable time to make this happen. But Chino Hills had increased their defense, and by fourth quarter, you remained scoreless. 

I cannot put into words the slowly rising passion and increasing heated emotions felt by Flames and their sideline during this time, where, sure enough, over time, a center referee slowly loses control of his game — and loses control of his own sideline referee too. Fights begin and are quickly extinguished by a protective and composed Flame. And it happens over and over.  

Our strategy for fourth quarter is to push up, defense, everyone. It’s our only hope to break through. And low and behold, what do you know, Flames’ side of the field remains, amazingly, deserted, as they struggle to keep us back. We’re first to the ball on everything, and it seems they’re just chasing Flames.

But we just need more time. More time to deal with this nonsense of continued fouling and name-calling, and their obvious stalling. Time is wasting. Time is ticking. Our hopes are truly diminishing. WE CAN’T LOSE THIS. We just can’t relinquish to a team that plays this way.

But then, remarkably, what happens next remains virtually indescribable in emotion and words. With about three minutes remaining in this war of the worlds, all that Chino Hills careless, wasted time when goals should have been achieved, all that pushing and shoving and pulling and attacking those Famous Flames instead of playing a game of good soccer I guess you could say came back to bite our enemy in the ass.

And, yes, in those few precious minutes counting down, Chino Hills handles in the box. Nick takes the penalty kick. He warns his Flames to not cross the line. The crowds are cheering, encouraging. The other side is demeaning. Nick doesn’t hear a thing. The keeper looks at Nick. Nick looks to the left. Shoots to the right. The ball slams the net and we are tied 1 to 1.

The game resumes with two minutes remaining, and we hold steadfast possession. With approximately 15 seconds remaining, there’s another Chino Hills foul in the box on Phil. And another penalty kick.

Is this seriously happening? Can we do this? Would something this astonishingly perfect actually happen to The Best Men?

The crowds are now screaming. We are all shaking. The pressure is so damn intense. Nick takes the penalty kick again. The keeper watches him. Nick closes his eyes. Jumps up and down. He is so pumped it’s crazy. He shoots with all his might into the left corner. Chino Hills fails to stop his power. We lead 2 to 1. A mere 15 seconds remain on the clock.

Somewhere in here Mike does four somersaults. I hope he’s okay. Our crowd is unstoppable, uncontainable. The joy is immeasurable. I think I ran and grabbed everybody I could reach. Something beautiful just happened.

And yes, when those 15 seconds on the ref’s watch ran out and he blew his whistle those three final times closing a Flames winning score of 2 to 1, Chino Hills was, I’m sure, in shock. And we were in heaven. 

Speaking of which, what shall we call this? Karma? Do we use that word in soccer? In life? Or maybe it’s that Flames Guardian Angel again. You be the judge.

“MVP! MVP! MVP!” I told Nick if he were ever awarded MVP again in his soccer life, it would be hard to deservedly compare it to this one day in Camarillo, where in just minutes you impacted lives forever. 

Congratulations, Flames, on Championship No. 5.  You have achieved greatness once again. And every time you do, I say to myself, “No way to top that!” But you ALWAYS top it.

This weekend will remain unforgettable. And, as we all kept saying for days after this experience on the field: Unexplainable. Unbelievable. Something Beautiful. 4 wins, 0 ties, 0 losses, 2 shutouts, 14 goals.

Next stop: Mission Viejo Classic, Mission Viejo, California, June 2nd & 3rd, 2012.

There are countless ways of attaining greatness, but any road to reaching one’s maximum potential must be built on a bedrock of respect for the individual, a commitment to excellence, and a rejection of mediocrity. Buck Rogers

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About LiveVitale

Courage. Simplicity. Kindness. Blog, walk & read daily. Laugh, love & breathe deeply. Live your life. ~ k
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