15 September vs. Pumas

Before the game the Pumas' captain and I were wondering how this game happened.  Last thing he remembered, they were in second division.  Granted, they were near the bottom of the division and expected that they might be relegated to third, but demotion to fourth division was a big surprise.  The 7-1 score at the end of the first half reflected this imbalance.

Even though were ended up with six each male and female players, the game got off to a confusing start, partially caused by a paucity of male players.  We started the game short a player, then added an extra woman in place of a man, then finally went up to a full male contingent about 10 minutes in.  Unfortunately, by then we were already down a couple points due to a deflected corner kick that dropped at the foot of one of their women inside the goal box.  They steadily added five more goals though the half due to superior numbers on the attack, extreme mobility (via youth and many subs) and some great passing. One highlight for our side was Steve's run down the left side finished by a left-footed blast past their keeper to make the score 6-1.  We were able to take advantage of a mismatch by having our male striker up against one of their slower women defenders, but, unfortunately, most of the time the rest of their defense was able to recover in time to keep us from scoring.  Likewise, we were unable to capitalize on the few defensive mistakes they made elsewhere, although Pam, Joyce, Bill and Steve all had legitimate chances.

It wasn't a case of anyone playing badly.  They just played better and in many cases forced us to make mistakes.  Kristen came in at keeper, replacing Dennis about 25 minutes in even though she is recovering from knee surgery, thus allowing us to have a male sub resting on the sideline.  The defense really had their hands full this time, particularly because Pumas' women were just as good as their men.  Even though only one women scored, they were consistently getting off good shots and made passes that set up most of the men's goals.  Vincent and his crew (Marina, Jen, Diane, Patti, Dennis and Tom) consistently chased them down most of the time, but there were usually too many of them.  Lack of subs and the long layoff without practices took their toll, although everyone was trying.  The defense managed to shut them down pretty well in the second half by allowing only one goal.  Les put in several miles at midfield along with Jen, Joyce, Bill, Steve, Diane, and Tom.  Bill, Steve, and Pam had several good goes at the goal from the front line, assisted by overlaps from Les, Joyce and Steve.

Pumas were pretty good natured, so, even though the score was a bit lopsided, it was more fun than the score would indicate.  Final tally: 1-8.
6 October vs. Buffalo Wild Wings

Nice, albeit somewhat humid night.  Gargantuan turnout, especially on the women's side with four subs.  Raymi made a much needed appearance, as did several first-timers.  This was a rejuvenated (i.e., young) Buffalo Wild Wings team, also with a huge showing (like, man, they had 20 people suited up).  From where I sat, far away from the action, it looked like a pretty even game.  Both teams had plenty of scoring opportunities, with the edge going to the Buffs in the first half, and to us in the second half.  I confess that things got a bit confusing with so many new people and so many subs to run in and out.

With Mark out for the season birthing babies and Dennis on vacation in London nobody was eager to volunteer to play in goal.  Kristen stepped up, recuperating knee and all, for the first half and managed to hold them to one goal, scored at about the 20 minute mark.  The defense really had their hands full with this crew -- they were young, fast and aggressive.  Raymi, Rafael, Maritza, Les, Bill, Kristen, Steve, Diane, Joaquin and Pam kept the pressure on their defense most of the night, and while we had plenty of chances, nothing would drop in the goal.  Wild Things had a bad habit of taking our people out in their penalty box, which could (should?) have resulted in several PKs, but as it happened earned us one PK and them a couple yellow cards.  Kristen took the PK, and, as she said later, should have had someone else take it given her knee wasn't 100% yet.  Her shot went directly at their keeper.  Bummer.  Defensively, the second half worked even better than the first with Vincent, Raymi, Diane, Marina, Patti, Meghan, Les and Jennifer all doing a great job keeping their strikers at arm's length from the reluctant rookie goalkeeper (Tom).  The Wild Ones managed to add another goal about 15 minutes into the second half on a header from a high ball that was misjudged by the keeper.  The half was characterized by seemingly epic battles in the boxes at both ends -- Vincent and Raymi fighting various Buffs for the ball on defense, and Rafael and Raymi trying to get one in on offense.  Overall a pretty even game.  BW3 probably set a modern record for referee abuse without having anyone ejected.

Welcome back to Raymi, and welcome to the newcomers: Rafael, Maritza, and Meghan.  Final score 0-2.
13 October vs. JFC Juggernauts (KA)

There were a full set of subs for both women and men, but no goalies.  Kristen
was convinced to play for the first half and allowed one in when a cross from
the dark side of the field was tapped in by one of their men.  Dante got the
team back into the game with two quick goals.  For the second half, Rafael was
convinced to play goalie and he despite claiming a lack of experience, he made
some amazing saves to keep us in the game.  With the game winding down, we
settled in to play some big defense, and Juaquin got a great pass he was able
to put into the goal.  Great game everyone, final score 3-1.
20 October vs. JFC Thunder

It was a bit cooler than it had been and we had a pretty good turnout for a late game -- one sub on the women's side and two for the men.  Mercifully, the donnerheads started the game a few players short and we were able to capitalize in the first few minutes when Bill slipped past the left side of their defense and skipped a low one past the keeper from about 10 yards out.  Their offense included the usual two Argentineans who managed to put in a couple of their own in quick time around the middle of the first half.  We were doing a pretty good job of keeping the ball on their end of the pitch when, late in the half, Raymi got taken down in the box.  The keeper stopped Kristen's PK by making a great diving save to his left; however, he wasn't able to control the ball and it came right back to her.  She stuffed it in the other side of the net to make the score 3-2 at halftime.  There was a pretty good duel going on between Rafael and Raymi and their two Argentineans, but I think we came out ahead.  Right after the start of the second half, Rafael just plain dribbled the ball past half the thunderclaps and into the goal.  He added another one on a good run with Raymi shortly afterward.  They caught us all upfield about midway through the last half and managed to get one in the net on a raging breakaway to wrap up the scoring for the night.

It was obviously a good game for the offense, getting four goals on a team that had only been scored on once the rest of the season.  The defense had a great night too, holding their ringers to just three goals.  Joyce, Diane, Pam, Kristen, Patti and Meghan really gave their offense fits on the outside of the midfield and defense (Marina was out with a bicycle injury), while Vincent and Raymi did a super job stopping them in the middle of the back line. A rotation of Steve, Bill and Joaquin on the front line kept the pressure on most of the game.  Joaquin in particular had a number of good opportunities.  Thunder did a pretty good job getting the ball in the midfield and attacking, but the defense kept them out of finishing range most of the night.  Rafael and Les anchored the middle of the midfield, helped by Steve, Bill, with Raymi and Vincent on overlaps from the back.  Dennis had a couple key saves in goal that kept the momentum (and the score) going our way.  Now that we have a few games behind us with all the new folks it seems like things are settling down.  Seems like we're starting to be able to anticipate the action rather than reacting to it.  Great effort.  Hope Marina's back soon.  Final score: 5-3
3 November vs. Pumas

Good turnout for an early game -- started the match with a woman and two guy subs and finished with two extra women and thee spare guys.  This was a remarkably even game considering the mismatch last time we played (losing 8-1).  Could be that having Raymi, Maritza, Kristen and Rafael in the lineup this time helped somewhat.  Even though the quality of play and, thus, the game was quite different this time, in a couple respects it was very similar to our last meeting: 1. Steve scored from the left side in the opening moments of the second half following a great combination of passes from Kristen to Maritza who got credit for the assist; and 2. They got a women's goal on a rebound from a blocked shot that dropped at the foot of their forward right in front of the net about midway through the second half.

Play was pretty even through the whole game with lots of quick counterattacks by both sides.  Both teams had several good opportunities to score that were stopped by the defenses.  Bill had a nice shot (also from the left side) that went off the crossbar, and Raymi, Maritza, Rafael, Kristen, Dante, Joaquin, and Pam (I think) were giving Puma's defense all they could handle much of the game.  Rafael, Maritza, Dante and Raymi in particular were always breaking through and threatening.  Raymi had a goal that was called back for a hand ball.  Our women had a particularly good night -- Meghan, Jen, Pam, Patti and Diane were really tough in the wing defense and midfield slots, and Kirsten's help was greatly appreciated when she came back to help on defense.  Let me personally thank them and Vincent, Raymi, Steve and Les who did a wonderful job in defense keeping the bad folks away from our nervous, rookie and partially lame goalkeeper most of the game.  You really can't appreciate a defense 'til you've played in the goal and they did great.  If anything, the second half was better than the first on defense in that the keeper only had to make a couple saves (but unfortunately, one that could have been saved wasn't).  Kristen gave us all a scare about 30 minutes into the second half when she went down with a twisted knee (the same one she just had surgery on).  She sat out the rest of the match, but said afterward that it felt okay.

Even though losing isn't as much fun as winning, this was a good game with pretty clearly the best team in the division.  If we continue to improve while playing as we did tonight, we'll have a good shot at finishing the rest of our games undefeated.  Great effort.  Final score: 1-2.
10 November vs. Team Zia

Extraordinary turnout.  We had a full side with three women subs and four extra guys.  The county kept us in the dark 'til the last possible moment when the field guy showed up to turn the lights on.  Weather was extra warm and humid for mid-November. 

We got off to a slow start with the Zeeoids managing not only to break up our offensive runs, but get a goal of their own at the 10-minute mark.  Raymi evened things up for us about five minutes later with a nice run finished with a crisp, left-footed shot into the right side of the net.  Rafael got his first of the night a couple minutes later by stealing the ball from a hapless midfielder and then pretty much dribbling it into the goal.  He wrapped up scoring for the half shortly afterward with an unassuming little shot taken from about 6 yards out, right on the end line.  The keeper either didn't expect a shot from such an improbable angle, or didn't expect it to be so slow, but for whatever reason he mishandled it just a little and the spin on the ball torqued it over the line for a goal.  Most folks didn't even realize it had gone in.  In the second half Zia swapped out their keeper, who then moved up to the front line.  The added speed on offense lead to their second goal on a quick counterattack, putting them with two guys alone on poor Alex in goal.  Things happened so quickly after that, I'm not sure what order some things came in.  Raymi got his second of the night, much like the first -- in the right side of the net.  That was followed in short order by Steve's monster header off a cross by Rafael(?).  Then, about 20 minutes into the half Jen got the ball in the middle of the field just inside the penalty area and took a shot that bent away from the keeper into the right side of the goal -- her first goal with the team!  And very nicely done too, making the score 7-2.  Les wrapped things up about five minutes later with a strong half-volley from about 30 out that must have taken their keeper by surprise when it went into the -- you guessed it -- right side of the goal.

This was an extraordinary offensive showing for the team, but just recounting the goals doesn't really begin to tell the whole story.  Maritza gave Zia's defense fits until a nagging ankle injury took her out for good early in the second half.  She had several really good chances to score that either just missed (one went off the crossbar), or were saved by the keeper.  Bill, Kristen, Raymi and Rafael were getting some nice crosses off to her from the wings.  Steve, Diane, Joyce and Dante also did good work on the front line as did Matt and Vincent late in the game.  After the first 20 minutes or so it seemed that we got the measure of their defense and were able to relax enough to start making some pretty passes on offense and ran a pretty good overlapping wheel from the midfield.  Steve and Bill traded off as designated male forwards, but Dante, Diane, Raymi, Rafael, Jen, Kristen, and Les all pushed forward with good effect when an opportunity presented itself.

The defense did their usual good work, and, other than two momentary lapses, really made things easy for Alex at the keeper spot.  Les had a great night at stopper, playing a bit farther back than he's accustomed to and was relieved by Dennis and Matt with assistance from Steve.  Play in the back was pretty fluid with Vincent and the stoppers trading off in the center fullback position.  Pam and Meghan had one of their best games in frustrating Zia's male wing forwards all night.  They got it done quietly, without fanfare, but effectively.  Patti was having one of her better games in recent memory when she stepped in a hole late in the game, badly spraining her ankle.  Kristen had her usual good match and was contributing as an overlapping midfielder and filling in on the back line as well.  Alex had a good first game in goal, and (speaking from personal experience) probably spent a good bit of the time getting a feel for the team.

Great effort.  Final score: 8-2.
8 December vs. Team Zia

Yes, again.  It was a sultry December night at Alief with a warm but chilling wind blowing out of the south.  Does that make sense?  Anyway, it was good soccer weather.  As is the case with many early games, we got off to a short start with nine players.  Fortunately, Zia started with eight, but even a player down they were playing very well.  We gradually got up to full strength about 15 minutes into the match, and Zia was up to 10 players by halftime.  Unfortunately, through injuries, they finished the game with eight still standing.

This Team Zia team (from the Department of Redundancy Department) was very different than the one we played back in November, and our month-long hiatus didn't help matters much in the beginning of the game.  They managed to control the ball pretty well for the first portion of the match although they weren't able to finish.  That brings up our most excellent defense in one of their best efforts to date -- we were able to bend a bit, forcing them to commit and then close the door with either confidence-inspiring stops by the fullback line, or heads-up play from our keepers.  I don't think either Dennis or Alexander had to make a difficult save all night.  Zia had very few shots, and only a few of them were on frame.  Meghan and Pam did a more than competent job of controlling the men they were up against on the wings, and Vincent was a very solid anchor for defense in the sweeper spot.  Raymi, Dennis, Matt and Les shared the stopper position quite effectively, with help back from Kristen and Rafael.  Very nicely done.  Matt had a really great night with some key stops and good passing in the defense-midfield transition game.  Vincent made several good overlaps to the front to get off a couple shots on goal.

The first portion of the game involved a lot of back and forth while we seemed to be re-establishing a sense of equilibrium after four weeks off for rain, a bye, and the holidays.  Raymi got the scoring off to a good start with an overlapping run from midfield at the 25-minute mark.  He finished with a powerful shot past the keeper from about 8 yards out after managing to dribble past the heart of Zia's defense.  Rafael had several successful runs past their defense before unselfishly dishing the ball off to Maritza and Diane inside the penalty box.  Several of their shots came very close, but didn't go in.  I don't think Rafael took one shot himself.  Kristen and Tony also had several good chances at goals that either luck or good goalkeeping conspired against.  All in all, it was a busy night for Zia's defense.  Joaquin got his first goal for the team just seconds into the second half when he got a great pass near the left corner of the penalty box.  He touched it toward the middle, putting himself one-on-one with the keeper and blasted it into the right side of the net.  Simple, yet elegant.  Raymi wrapped up scoring for the night a few minutes later with a near-identical image of his first goal to make the tally 3-0.

Kudos go to the women once again for playing without subs.  Maritza and Diane both had several good runs on goal, Kristen was playing back and forward from her midfield spot, and, again, Pam and Meghan were able to keep up with Zia's male forwards all night.  Tony had a busy night, and, although he didn't get a goal, had several chances.  He drew lots of attention from their defense, thus opening things up for others.  Rafael, Raymi and Les had a good night in the middle, directing traffic and poaching Zia's balls as they came through the midfield.  

Great effort.  Final score: 3-0.