15 June vs. JFC Thunder

Night of the Lilliputians.  Average height of Brasil: 4-1/2 feet; average age: probably 14 years; total subs: one or two.  Even the game was short due to a late start.  That said, they played a wonderful game on a hot and humid night and a squishy field.  Brasil was able to capitalize on quickness and passing skill to control the ball quite well in the midfield at times, but had trouble getting the ball into position for a finish. 

Penguins had a great turnout with five extra men and a woman sub.  We played a relatively sane game and had the opportunity to play some folks in non-traditional positions.  We had a number of early chances at the net that were either stopped by Brasil's very active keeper, or, in a bizarre turn, by the puddle in front of the goal that stopped Bill's certain goal dead in its...tracks?  We finally got on the board when Rafael worked his way through their defense and slid one past the keeper at the 20-minute mark.  This was followed a few minutes later when Bill was able to run on to a great through ball behind the defense from Alex (who was playing on our back line at the time).  Steve got the next one about 15 minutes into the second half just after he was told he'd be subbing out.  He took the ball back in our defense and pretty much ran past everyone on the left side of the field and finished with a nice left-footed shot from about 10 yards out.  Raoul got his goal under similar circumstances, taking the ball down the left side after being told he was being subbed.  Parenthetically, Rafael wrapped things up with another breakaway just before the final whistle.  Joyce, Kristen and Jason had several good shots on goal that -- unfortunately -- were stopped by Brasil's keeper.

Our defense was able to frustrate Brasil's offensive opportunities in the last third of the field, and as a result they weren't able to get off a really threatening shot all night (much to the relief of our rookie goalkeepers, I'm almost certain).  Vincent anchored the middle of the defense as usual, with really excellent help from Pam and Meghan on the wings.  Les, Alex, Mike and Steve all did time at the pointy end of the defense in the stopper position at one time or another.  Tom stood in goal for the first half and tried to make things exciting by dropping the ball a few times.  He says that one can't truly appreciate good defense until you've played in the goal.  Mike moved from stopper in the first half to keeper in the second and managed to preserve the shutout with stellar play.  Diane, Kristen, Dante, Rafael, Bill, Steve, Les, Raoul and Jason all played in the midfield at one time or another and did a good job of dominating play like sequoias amongst dwarf junipers.  Patti (who also ran subs during the first half), Joyce, Jason, Alex and Steve played forward and did a great job keeping Brasil's defense occupied.

Great effort and a good way to start the new season.  Welcome to Mike (formerly of No Hands) for his first game as a Penguin, and welcome back to Alex and Raoul.  Final score 5-0.
21 June vs. Big Kahunas

Another hot night and against another young team.  But not as young as last week.  We had a pretty good turnout with two women subs and two men subs.  The field was in good shape except for the goal areas which were pretty wet and muddy.

We got off to a hot start when Bill got behind Big's defense, taking two consecutive, good through passes from the midfield stripe (one from Dante and I didn't see the other) and scored two goals in two minutes, all before the ten minute mark.  After that things tightened up for the rest of the half.  We had more chances at the net than Kahunas, but couldn't get anything to drop due to near misses or good saves by their keeper.  Kristen, Dante, Les, Rafael, Jen and Alex all had good shots on goal.  Our defense played one of their best games by allowing only a single shot on goal in the first half.  Vincent, as usual, anchored the center of the defense while Les and Steve helped out at stopper.  Diane, Meghan, and Pam controlled the outside of the defense, often against their bigger male players.

Kahunas came out big to start the second half, getting a nice goal on a cross from near the touchline, making the score 2-1.  I'm not sure what that started, but when they scored our offense seemed to wake up, rise like a giant millipede and go berserk like a...a...a giant, rising, berserk millipede.  Less than two minutes later Rafael got behind the defense on a quick counter and dumped it into the net neat-as-you-please.  Kahunas had a hard time containing our counterattacks all night, but their problem was compounded after they fell behind 3-1.  They pushed so many people up, trying to score while essentially running an offsides trap at the halfway line, which left them very vulnerable to long, through balls that our forwards and halfbacks were able to run onto -- one-on-one with the keeper.  We didn't score every time, but their keeper was pretty overwhelmed by the number of breakaways.  Dante got three goals in the second half, Rafael got two, and Alex got one.  Jen had a great night and on one occasion, by wall passing back and forth with Kristen, was able to work the ball through most of  Kahunas' defense.  Unfortunately, Kristen's finishing shot missed.  Meghan had one of her best games ever, playing at both fullback and midfield.  She was spot-on with her passing, and had an assist with a perfect through pass that led to a goal.  People were rotating around into different positions in the second half.  I believe Patti was playing at forward and midfield.  Joyce had a good night and was on the receiving end of many passes on the front line.  Diane and Pam had a good game in the defense and midfield respectively, making several key stops on their offensive men, and, again, passing well.  Steve and Vincent performed well in the defense, creating a feeling of peace and serenity inside our 18.  Late in the game they both did stints up on the front line and had good shots on goal.  Tom stood in goal the whole game this time and didn't get many touches -- goalie heaven as far as he was concerned.

Executive summary: Game was won by recognizing the potential of, and executing great counterattacks combined with very good passing and strong defense.  Final score: 8-1.
5 July vs Alliance III

Your faithful(?) reporter was not at the game.  Reportedly, the women ruled, outnumbering the men 6-4.  Les scored and made the command suggestion that Alex and Kristen swap places in goal in the second half.  That was apparently the key to Alex' two goals in the closing minutes, tying the game at 3 apiece.

Any more info?  Anyone...?  Anyone...?

Final score 3-3
12 July vs. Blue Dragons

It was a hot, still, fetid night.  A woman screamed.  A shot rang out.  Okay -- not exactly, but it was a hot, still, fetid night.  Our plethora of women from last week dissolved like a slug on hot, salty asphalt.  We had up to three guy subs, but played short two women (many thanks to Joyce, Pam, and Maritza).  Since the field pointed east-west, the setting sun was a factor in the outcome of the game.  Of the eight goals scored by both sides on the evening, only one was scored shooting into the sun.  Fortunately, we got the sun at our back during the first half when it was particularly bad for their keeper.

This was Maritza's game.  She had a great evening playing in the striker spot, but also did a great job coming back to help in the midfield.  Her first strike came about 8 minutes into the game when the keeper came out to corral a long, high through pass near the top of the box.  Apparently he lost the ball in the sun and just about missed it completely, leaving Maritza absolutely alone with the ball at the 18.  She tapped it in to put us up by two goals.  Dante and Bill added two more, beating the keeper handily.  Bill's goal came from a beautiful, long cross from Alex the Younger, with Bill just barely beating the keeper to the ball with his head.  Dragons got one back shortly after that to make the score 4-1.  Unfortunately for them, Maritza got the ball again, put a classic move on their last defender and blasted another one past the keeper for her second of the game.  Just before the end of the half, Les added one more from the top of the box, using a clever fake to move the keeper out of position before sliding the ball into the right corner of the net.  Score at the half was 7-1.

Since Alex the Elder was pretty bored from lack of activity in the goal, Tom took over at keeper for the second half and proceeded to make it a more interesting game. He gave up three points from two goals in the first 15 minutes of the half to make the score 7-4.  I don't know if it was having the sun at their backs, or what, but Dragons seemed to have most of the momentum during the second half.  However, the defense managed to hold a very young team to those two goals and maintain the three goal margin to the final whistle.  But it was exciting, particularly back in the goal.  In addition to Maritza, Pam and Joyce deserve particular recognition for playing the whole game in the heat, and playing well at that.  They anchored the defensive wings and did a good job overlapping into the midfield when needed.  Our passing was as good as I've seen it in the first half.  Everyone seemed to be communicating well and it wasn't unusual to see runs of five, six and seven touches leading to shots on goal.  Steve, both Alexes, Dante, Vincent and Les, playing in the middle were instrumental in starting things off by distributing the ball to the sides, and then getting the ball into scoring position from the touchline. 

Maritza, Young Alex and Jason played up front and gave Dragons way more than they could handle in the first half.  Les, Dante, Elder Alex, and Steve covered the whole midfield, compensating for the missing players at wing halfback.  Vincent led the defense from the sweeper spot in the first half while making the occasional overlapping run through to the front.  Les and Steve did most of the stopper duty, while covering Vincent when he went forward.

Good friendly game.  Final score: 7-4.
19 July vs. Team Zia

Somehow the original narrative I stuck here disappeared.  So here it comes from memory, three weeks after the fact.  Sorry if I leave something out.

It was a hot night (safe bet).  I think we had both men and women subs.  I was in the goal all game (I do remember that).  The game started with lots of back and forth as both teams warmed up.  There were no serious threats either way for the first 15 minutes or so.  About that time Les opened things up when a good shot by Rafael was blocked but not controlled by Zia's keeper.  Les put the gentle half-volley touch on it and the score was 1-0.  That broke the dam.  A few minutes later Rafael drew in most of their defense at the midfield stripe and slid the ball out to a wide open Kristen who was making a well-timed run down the left side.  She finished with a strong left-footed shot that the keeper never had a chance to touch.  Five minutes later the same thing happened, except on the other side of the field: Rafael got ball; defenders all headed for Rafael; Diane made run down right side; Rafael passed to Diane; Diane scored.  All of a sudden it was 5-0, and the game was out of reach for Zia.  That said, Zia kept up a very credible attack throughout the game, and through either bad luck, reluctance to shoot, good defense, and [ahem] good goalkeeping couldn't even buy a goal, while Bill added one for good measure just before the half.  The second half was essentially the same -- Zia would control the ball well in their defense, and make a decent transition to midfield, only to get off track in the last 25% of the field.  They had two of the fastest women forwards I've ever seen, but they just couldn't finish that night.  We, on the other hand, couldn't miss.  Their aggressive attempts to get a goal in the second half left them vulnerable to counterattack. That generated lots of coordinated breakaways for us and some good passing through a depleted Zioid defense.  Dante got the first goal of the second half, followed by Alex C. with a nice strike from just inside the top of the penalty box.  Vincent got his first of the season while overlapping from the back of the defense.  He would have had a second if not for an offsides call.  Bill had many chances, and finally added his second and the last goal of the night about 10 minutes before the final whistle.  

Meghan took over as the key defender, particularly during the second half when much of the defense was rotating around the field in sometimes simultaneous overlaps.  She really came through and either stopped Zia's attack herself, or slowed their offense down enough to allow our defense to recover.  Pam and Jen both had good games as well.  Pam made what seemed to me to be a spectacular save when she head-spiked a ball at me to keep it away from their striker at the last possible moment.  Fortunately I was awake.  Steve and Alex W. both helped out in the defense and midfield and collectively had a great night.  I know I'm leaving someone out, but my memory isn't what it once was.

Bottom line: great game, good passing, good finishing.  Final score: 10-0
26 July vs. Olympia V

This is usually a pretty tough match, with the balance of wins going to Oly in recent meetings.  A cold front had come through town the night before and cooled things down a bit (mid-80s rather than mid-90s).  I recall that we had a couple guy and women subs, so it was a pretty good turnout.

This was a pretty good game, with Oly probably being the best team we'd faced all season.  They went out in front about midway through the half by just squeezing a perfect shot into the left corner of the net.  Just when it seemed that Olympia was going to control the whole game we suddenly managed to get a few good runs in.  The second of these was capped with a really pretty, short, lobbing head pass from Alex W. to Rafael's foot at the top of the box.  Rafael just dinked it past a diving keeper to even up the score a few minutes before the half.  We jumped in seemingly refreshed in the second half while Olympia started slowing down a little.  After only 3 minutes, Bill made a 70-yard coast-to-coaster right up the middle, finishing by just plain outrunning their sweeper and slotting the ball into the net from outside the goal box.  Highlight reel stuff.  Les finished our scoring about 20 minutes later with his fourth goal in the last four games.  With a 3-1 lead halfway through the second half we seemed to relax a little and Olympia gradually assumed control of the midfield and started battering the defense.  Our defenders managed a pretty effective bend-but-don't-break tactic that kept Oly out of our goal until about 5 minutes before the whistle.  Things got pretty exciting then, with Olympia pulling out all the stops.  The defense managed to put them off long enough to preserve the win in the near-dark conditions.  In the process, one of Olympia's women put a good shot off the crossbar with almost no time left so it was a close one.  Everyone played very well.  Kristen put in about 10 miles while helping out everywhere -- nominally in the midfield she was helping out on defense and making good runs through on offense.  Unfortunately, she was lightly maimed with cleats to the knee that will leave a pretty good bruise.  Even though he didn't score this time, Jason was a constant distraction and thorn in the midst of Oly's defense.  Pam and Diane did their usual calm and competent jobs in the defense and midfield.  Alex C. in goal and Vincent at center defender really kept us in the game with stop after stop.  Very competent.  Unfortunately, Steve, who was having a good night in the defense and midfield, went out with a knee injury about 15 minutes from time.  Looks like he'll be down for some time while recovering from surgery.  Serious bummer for him and a blow to the defense.

Other than Steve's injury it was another good game -- this time demonstrating that we can come from behind, if necessary.  Final score: 3-2
2 August vs. Brasil of Houston

Beastly unpleasant, hot night; hideously humid with no breeze at all.  We had a couple extra guys and women, but a bigger turnout would have been better in the heat.  

Brasil probably gets the award for most improved team in the league.  We played them the first game of the season when they were just getting organized, and they were more than ready this time.  They still had their seriously young youngsters (two 12-yr-olds) and a few slightly older teens in the mix along with some older players we didn't see the first time.  This team will probably beat the Olympia team we played last week when they play on the 16th [it's true, they did - ed.

We got off to a pretty slow start in the heat and in the face of a very aggressive, young Brasil team that didn't know it was too hot to play like that.  They managed several very well-coordinated attacks that won them a goal about 20 minutes into the game.  I forget, but I think we went into the half behind 1-0.  But then, like last week, we came into the second half with more energy.  More aggressive play on our part earned a free kick on the right side about 20-25 yards out.  Dante saw an opening left by the keeper on the left side of the goal and placed a really hot shot into the corner to tie the game at one each.  Alex W. put us ahead about 15 minutes into the second half with a rather spectacularly strong, long shot that was slightly deflected by a defender before landing in the right side of the net.  It would have gone in anyway, but the deflection seemed to make it all that much better for some reason. 

 Again like last week, we seemed to relax a little at that point and let Brasil take control of too much of the rest of the game.  That said, we did have several other chances on quick counters when the Brasilians got caught pushing up too far.  Bill just barely missed at least two goals with good strong shots.  We did give their keeper a pretty good workout late in the game, which served two purposes: first, it meant we were keeping the ball on their end of the field at least some of the time late in the second half; and, second, our ability to mount the quick counterattack kept their best player (the keeper) back in the goal and out of their offense.  (They undoubtedly remembered what happened in our first meeting when they subbed their premier keeper into the offense early in the second half only to have us put the game away by scoring a couple quick goals on counters against an inexperienced substitute keeper.)  They eventually did move the keeper up into the midfield, but it was too late, and he was serving up balls more as a playmaker than trying to score himself.  Fortunately, Vincent, Meghan, Pam, Les, Diane, Jen, Rafael, Kristen and Alex W. were all able to shut their offense down just enough to keep them out of the net.  Alex C. did a great job saving the balls that did get through.  Everyone did a super job.  Diane and Dante both had several runs at the goal from their midfield spots.  Even though he didn't score this time, Rafael was the central figure in the middle of the field with his overlapping runs and creative passing.  Raoul made a good showing in his first game back since the last time we played Brasil.  He started as an overlapping stopper, migrated to the front and finished back in the defense after having several good shots on goal from the left wing.  Vincent played the entire game (a phenomenal feat in itself) and made many critical stops as last man back.  Very good showing.

Once again, a come from behind win.  Final score: 2-1
16 August vs. JFC Thunder

The remnants of a cold front late last week kept temperatures (relatively) reasonable.  Fairly decent turnout with a couple extra men and women, and real spectators in the form of Steve and Alex's visiting relatives from the UK.  Thunder is a team that has given us trouble in the past -- it had been been about a year since we'd won a match against them.

It didn't take long to get started for a change.  On our first go at the goal about 2 minutes in, Dante made a well-timed chip to put the ball behind the defense and right in front of a streaking Mr. Bill.  Young William forced their keeper to come out on him then ran around him to dink the ball into the net in probably our quickest goal ever.  The Evil Ones managed to even the score at one each about 5 minutes later after they put together several nice passes and put a screamer past our slack-jawed keeper and into the goal.  Play went back and forth for a while until Rafael came in and started drawing a crowd of defenders wherever he went.  This action reached its zenith when he took the ball down inside the Thuds 18 and proceeded to dribble around until Maritza came in range.  He then gave her a backheel pass where she was -- honest to God  -- alone in front of the goal.  And then it was 3-1.  Mercifully, Alex C. came in at that point to take over goalkeeping duty, only to be welcomed by a setup similar to their first goal.  And then the score was 3-2.  In the spirit of quick retaliation Bill scored again.  And this one was one of the prettiest goals I've seen in person -- we worked the ball down the field with a series of clean passes to near the top of the penalty box where Kristen passed the ball across the field to Bill who, with a nice touch, chipped a banana ball over their well-positioned, leaping keeper, placing it nicely in the upper right-hand corner of the goal.  Very sweet highlight show sort of thing.  This was followed in short order by an encore of the Rafael show (see above).  This time it was a pretty wall pass to Maritza before she buried it in the net.  Ha.  This took us into halftime with the score 6-2.  Not a bad showing for our Brit fan base.  Things started a bit slower in the second half with Thunder adding one about 10 minutes in.  That got Rafael in scoring mode again (motoring around in their penalty area) when -- Thunder having had enough of that -- he was taken down from behind. After some discussion Joyce took the PK and placed it nicely off the diving keeper's hand and into the far right side of the frame.  And then it was 8-3.  Rafael got one of his own after that with a well-placed shot from just outside the goal box, and Thunder added another in the gathering darkness.  The ref managed to squeeze in all but the last 6 minutes of game time and finally called the game due to pitch blackness.

Strategically, our venomous counterattack (demonstrated very early in the match by Dante and Bill) was probably the key to keeping Thunder out of our goal.  Their extremely good Argentinean playmaker at the center mid position never did venture too far forward and participate in the attack, probably because he wouldn't be able to cover our quick counters.  He still served up good balls, and started most of their scoring opportunities, but he stayed in the midfield rather than leading the attack as we'd seen him do in previous games.  There was that, and with Les and Rafael dogging him he didn't get the number of high quality touches on the ball that he usually gets.  He was quite frustrated, and the wheels kinda came off after he got in a shouting match with the ref about midway through the second half.

To simply say that everyone had a good game would be an understatement, particularly in the face of quite good opposition.  No only did we not miss many scoring opportunities (actually, there were a few) but we didn't miss many passes either.  The defense was up to its usual high performance standards in spite of missing a couple key folks in Pam and Meghan.  Vincent, as usual, ran a very smart operation in the back along with a big cast: Alex the Younger, Joyce, Les, Diane, Jen, Kristen and Tom all played on the back line at one time or another.  After the first 15 minutes of the match when the score got to be 3-1 there was a good shift to slowing down their offense until we had numbers back on defense.  This led to a few Thunder goals, but careful marking and tackling of their women assured that they would be scoring at a much slower rate than we were.  Alex C. had another good night in the goal, making several good stops and coming off his line to make a couple key tackles.  Vincent played the whole game; Les played the whole first half and most of the second, and they're two of the oldest people on the pitch.  Diane had yet another good game marking one of their faster men on the wing when she was playing back.  Kristen and Maritza did a good job of coming up with the extra effort to come back to help out on defense when needed.  The midfield crew: Les, Kristen, Dante, Joyce, Rafael, Diane, Maria, Jen, and Patti really controlled the game, as it should be.  Our midfield's really good, creative passing and overlapping runs first started, then provided solid support for our counterattacks.  The midfielders had several scoring opportunities, particularly from Jen, Kristen, Patti and Dante who all had good looks at a goal.  Maritza, Bill, and Alex the Younger played in the striking position, obviously to good effect (four of our six goals).  Of the three, only Alex was shut out, but he had several good shots on goal with at least one of them going off the bar, and he had to sit out a while in the second half due to a knock in the head late in the first period. 

I must say that this was a good way to end the season on a high note -- a convincing win against a tough opponent.  Welcome back to Maritza.  Final score: 9-4.