The last time I wrote we were settling into West Chester, PA and two days away from the start of something great: Cheesesteak Preseason 2011. It may be sad to admit this to the general public, but my favorite time of the season is always the first month. I love the multiple practices a day, the conditioning, the ball work, the 9am – 5pm commitment. So, having just finished our first week of preseason in the most grueling fashion, I am, in a lack of a better comparison, a kid in a candy store.
There are not enough words in the English dictionary to properly describe the feeling that soccer gives to me. In effort to better explain, allow me to provide an example. The first day of a preseason was a long one. We had a team meeting at 10am where we were introduced to all the new players (who are absolutely fantastic both on and off the field) and what it meant to be a member of the Philadelphia Independence a.k.a. a Cheesesteak. It is emphasized that being a part of this franchise will require one to work harder and ask more of herself than any other team. Paul Riley, our head coach (and the best this league, or any league for that matter has to offer), makes it very clear that he demands a great investment from each and every player and staff member. In return, you are rewarded with an environment that makes you a better player and person. You are rewarded with the opportunity to push yourself beyond what was initially thought possible physically, emotionally, and mentally. You walk away from the season knowing you have grown, improved, and created what will be some of the most cherished memories this lifetime has to offer.
Once you get the feel for what being a professional in Philly is all about, you are then shuffled over to do your medical examinations and pick up your gear for the season. The anticipation builds until 4pm when we step on the field for the first time as the 2011 Cheesesteaks. For anyone that knows our team, we are EXTREMELY competitive. Paul has chosen the players and created the training environment that provides for intense intense competition (in the greatest way possible). Like most practices, we end with small sided games (usually 6 v. 6 or 5 v. 5). This is where the tempers fly high because the glory of winning and the agony of defeat are the only two options. The point of the game is simple, your team scores a goal, you stay on the field and play the team waiting impatiently on the sidelines. You lose, you drop your head in embarrassment and walk briskly from the pitch in public humiliation to wait for the next game. Soccer at its best.
This is where the point of my story lies (at least I got to throw in some details of the team and the first day in the meantime). My team made it to the Championship game. This was it. Score one goal and we end practice gloating and reigning champions until day two (glory is very short-lived). While it may seem like just a game to most of my readers, to me, this is NEVER just a game. I am disgustingly competitive and while emotions may run high on the practice field, they are never carried back into the locker room. To put it into perspective, this was my World Cup. After 6 months of off-season work (and in my opinion the work you put in out of season is just as important, if not more, than the regular season) this was my and my teammates opportunity to prove our worth.
The game was a battle with each team having scoring chances but just as the last seconds where fading off the clock, the ball rolls out to me at the top of the box. With one swing of my right foot the ball reaches the back of the net and my team is declared the winner. This entire blog entry was written to provide a backdrop to the emotions that I felt at this exact moment my team won. Those emotions are ones that no other circumstance can give to me. They are indescribable and non-duplicatable. They are unique to the game of soccer.
It was a complete adrenaline rush. A high. A state of euphoria that made every drop of sweat, every drop of blood, and every tear that was shed in the off-season utterly worth it. It was not just a goal and not just one win (it never will be), it was the reward for every yard sprinted, every inch jumped, every weight lifted, and every social event sacrificed the past five months. It was the ultimate prize. That moment, when I walked off the field, grinning ear to ear, I felt as if I was walking on air. Complete fulfillment.
I have heard the saying that it is important to love what you do and do what you love. As a member of the Independence organization, I can honestly say, that we are given the chance to embody this credo. I know I can probably speak for the majority of my teammates when I say I believe, whole-heartedly, in the product we are creating and the people we are lucky enough to create it with. We truly are a group where our sum is greater than our individual parts and this makes my expectations for this season sky high.
These expectations are shared not only by the players, coaches, and staff, but also by the fans, some of whom have come out to practice from day one to support the team. I touched on the passion that our fans have for our team and the game of soccer in my last blog but never did I anticipate the committment these fans have already shown one week into the season. I won’t name names but our team room is always filled with warm, delicious baked goods and after a morning of hard conditioning, there is nothing more satisfying than a piece of home-made banana bread. It is those small things that make being a part of the this Cheesesteak family so special and so rewarding.
Whew, the first week is over. As you can tell, my level of optimism is through the roof. We are fit, we are cohesive, and we are hungry to redeem a 2010 season of unfinished business. Another week of double days lies ahead and while many may grimace, there are only smiles here. =)
Keep an eye and ear out for media outelts this week. A podcast of featuring Lianne Sanderson and myself. A possible star spot on NBC…..will update the blog with links, times, and channels soon. Feel free to email with feedback and questions.