1-1-1 To Be Number 1
My team clinched the WPS regular season title and number one seed (which sent us straight to the final), with our 0-0 tie against Bay Area. Despite the accomplishment, we weren’t happy with the result or the way we had finished the game. We started off creating numerous chances on goal with dynamic movement and runs off the ball in the first half. However, we looked tired and flat in the second half. When the final whistle blew, we knew what we had done, but our celebration was weak. Bittersweet it was, we wanted the win. However, we needed to remember the hard work and heart we had put in since the start of the season that got us to that point. We were happy that we were able to remain the number one team during the whole season. But we weren’t satisfied.
The results of our last two regular season games may not have affected our standings, but we still wanted to make a statement. Chicago was out of the playoffs. However, they were playing for their pride and for their fans, with nothing to lose, ready to come at us. And that they did. Just ten minutes in, the Red Stars put one in the back of the net. Hoping that was our wake-up call, we put in some effort to maintain control of the ball, but we were unable to finish the few chances on goal stemming from that possession. The locker room halftime talk was very direct. We needed to step it up. But that motivation wasn’t enough to stop the Red Stars from scoring another goal, just a few minutes into the second half. We fought back, defensively and offensively. Hanny’s goal in the last minute brought us closer to tying it up, but it was already too late. With the momentum flowing for us for just a few minutes, the Red Stars put a stop to any opportunity we had to avoid the loss with another goal. After the final whistle, we watched in frustration as the Red Stars thanked their fans. We knew what we had to do. And Boston was our target.
It was do or die for the Breakers. They needed the win to make the final playoff spot. We needed the win (or tie, but we weren’t looking for that) for our resolve. The game started off with no rhythm or controlled possession for either team, resulting in uncreative chances on goal. However, about 17 minutes in, the Breakers found a hole in our back line. Lilly sent a ball over the top to her forward, Kelly Smith, who was able to take a touch and put one past KK. The rest of the half settled down. We figured out our defensive pressure in the midfield, helping us keep possession and move the ball forward, but we were unable to get one past their goalkeeper. At halftime, we headed into the locker room positive that we would come back. With a few positional and tactical adjustments, we started the second half with a boom. Our possession was purposeful, our defensive pressure was unbearable for the Breakers, and we re-instilled the confidence we knew we had. In the 60th minute, Aly sent a through ball to Marta, who was able to get a touch on it before the Breaker goalkeeper came out a second too late, smothering Marta instead of the ball. After a roll or two on the ground, Marta looked up to see the ball heading into the corner netting. She knelt up, and pumped her fist in celebration. Our energy continued, stopping Breaker attacks, and building our own chances. Just when we thought the game would end in a tie, the referee rewarded us with a penalty kick in extra time. Boxxy buried it with ease (we had been practicing all week). And we celebrated like we had really earned our number one spot.
Are You On The Ball?
My friends created a TV show dedicated to covering women’s soccer in the area called On The Ball. Larkin, Aya, and I went into their studio to do an appearance for their first program. We each had our own ten minute question and answer interview, complete with a word association piece. Let me tell you, I am so horrible at that game. I come up with the most unoriginal responses. Puma? Cat. Soccer? Game. But I think Larkin might be worse. The first word that comes to her head when hearing Britney Spears? Bald.
After our own individual pieces, we got together to have some fun. We did another question and answer piece that was ridiculously funny. Sue Capra, the host, asked us, “Who has the funniest accent?” We answered in unison, “Camille.” And then we proceeded to do our own take of Cami’s French accent when she says her most infamous line, “It ‘twas sooo funny.”
We finished up with an amusing piece where we each had to pretend we were a bobble head. This was to be done in spirit of Marta’s LA Sol bobble head. I was pretty bad at this. It is difficult to act like a bobble head, so I just rolled my head around my neck with a few bobs in between.
The interview was fun and refreshing. I am looking forward to seeing the first episode which should be streamed online soon. Hopefully, everyone will be impressed with my bobble heading skills.
The few weeks before the final were filled with a few celebratory and interactive events. First up was the pep rally at the Los Angeles Sparks WNBA game versus New York at the Staples Center. During halftime, we gave red soccer balls to a few basketball players involved in a youth organization. Throwing them around and spinning the balls on their fingers, we hoped that they would know what to do with a soccer ball. It was so great to get involved and encourage physical activities; even if the girls decided to play basketball with their new soccer balls.
A few days later, we went to our trophy presentation, which took place at the Lakers 3 on 3 tournament, just outside the Staples Center. After a quick autograph session, we went on stage to be awarded the trophy for winning the WPS Regular Season title. After posing for some pictures with the trophy, we remained on stage for a surprise. A few guys came on stage. The DJ announced that the New Boyz, a popular rap group, was going to be performing “You’re A Jerk” song. Wait, what? We were all so very ecstatic as we greeted them on stage. As they performed, we attempted the dance that goes with the song. We may have skills, but they were lacking big time, especially when a four-year-old showed us up, with an in-your-face rendition of the dance. We took some more pictures with the New Boyz and also with a few of the Galaxy players that showed up before going back home. I am not ashamed to say that we taught ourselves the dance moves and practiced them for a few hours before finally going to sleep. We are competitors, and we don’t want to lose at anything… especially to a four-year-old! There’s no shame in that. Just saying.
“We played the wrong sport.” Jules and I sat in the stands of the Los Angeles Dodger Stadium discussing the perks of being a professional baseball player. Eat sunflower seeds in the dugout? Check! Get paid millions of dollars to stand around the outfield chatting up your fellow teammates during warm-ups? Sign me up! There’s just one thing. We’d look pretty ridiculous in a baseball uniform. The pants just don’t do it for me. But we would look darn cute in those hats!
We watched the Dodgers and their opponents for the night, St. Louis Cardinals do their warm-up routine while we chowed down on soft pretzels and garlic fries (oh the wonders of being a baseball fan!). After enjoying the baseball stadium atmosphere (crazy fanatics running around, spilling their beer and ketchup on you), we headed to the area behind home plate. Marta was going to throw the ceremonial pitch and we wanted front row tickets! Crowding around the TV cameras and photographers, we cheered as Marta (donned in her own LA Dodger uni) did a few juggles with the baseball and then threw a perfect throw to the catcher. We erupted in screams and random heckling. “Take that Manny!” But Marta wasn’t the only one getting props. We did get a few shout outs from the few Sol fans in the stands.
We shook out our nerves during the warm-up. After going through our usual routines, we were geared up when the first whistle blew. The game started like any other, with both teams vying for controlled possession. We tried to work our way up the field, keeping possession through our midfield. Sky Blue liked to play the ball out wide and cross it in to their target forward, Tasha Kai. About 16 minutes in the game, Kai helped her team get on the board. She flicked a cross from Dowling to Heather O’Reilly who blasted a shot point blank. KK was able to get a touch on it with her foot, but the ball went side netting, giving Sky Blue an early 1-0 lead. We had been in that situation before, so we got together to regain focus. However, about ten minutes later our flow was interrupted once again, but this time by a very questionable and controversial call by the head referee. Kirby, one of our center backs was given a red card for an apparent tackle from behind on Kai. After arguing with the ref, we regrouped, keeping three in the back until Coach Abner could make adjustments a few minutes later. The rest of the half, we did our best to play smart defense and keep possession of the ball.
We headed into the locker room with our heads up, ready to do whatever it took to win the game. Despite being a man down, my team kept pressure on Sky Blue for the rest of the game. We created chance after chance, but each was either a near miss or stopped with an unbelievable save by Sky Blue’s goalkeeper. The minutes clocked down and the final whistle blew. We knew we were the better team, but sometimes that doesn’t mean you come out the winner. Disappointed in the loss, but not with our effort, we congratulated Sky Blue and then thanked our fans for all of their support during the season. We had fought hard for them and for each other, leaving everything on the field. That day just didn’t go the way that we wanted it to. And that is the game of soccer.
It has been about less than a month since the final. I think about it every moment I can, going over in my mind play after play. I am proud of my team and what we accomplished. It is always harder to win the regular season than to try to win one game. As much as we had wanted to capstone our season with the WPS Final championship win, we were proud of everything else we had done. I couldn’t have asked to play with a better, more dedicated group of teammates. They became my best friends and I learned something from each and every one of them, on and off the field. We are so thankful for all of the support we received from fans, family, friends, sponsors Amway Global, and investors AEG and Blue Star. Despite the fact that we love to play the game for ourselves, we played for them; we couldn’t have done it without them all.
The offseason will be filled with training (physical and mental), a few appearances, and some much needed downtime. I am looking forward to working on my weaknesses, getting stronger and fitter, and having some fun playing with my coed teams back home here in CT. Please keep reading my Goal Kick blog (and you can also keep updated with my Twitter account, Makoski22) as I share my adventures during the offseason and what it will take for me to remain at the professional level. My first season as a professional soccer player was an unbelievable experience and I look forward to continuing on this journey.