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Kitsap Pumas tryouts put me in my place
During warm-ups, my confidence soared.
Surveying the talent, it was apparent I lacked the physical prowess of my competitors. But what I lacked in speed and strength, I made up for in determination.
I wanted to be on the field, and I wanted to prove I belonged. That’s why I turned out for the Kitsap Pumas, the county’s professional soccer franchise.
I never said: “I might make the team.”
That thought never crossed my mind.
As the coaches convened on the sideline, most of the players stretched and jogged and dribbled the ball.
I decided to emulate the moves of one particularly talented-looking player, No. 155. I copied his every move — from a distance, of course — and he took me through a series of stretches I can’t begin to describe. Significant bending of the back. Footwork I would liken to tap dancing. And high knees. The guy loved to run in place, trying to knock his chin with his own knees.
I followed suit. It was like being in high school again. I was trying to fit in.
Outfitted with an orange practice jersey, a “penny,” No. 205, we finally took to the field for a 30-minute scrimmage.
I trotted up and down the field the first couple minutes without touching the ball. I was feeling pretty good — wasn’t panting, had kept the jersey clean, hadn’t made a mistake.
Until the action found me.
“205! 205! Look up!”
Our goalkeeper shot the ball in my direction, straight and true as a laser. I was the only man within 10 yards of the ball. I extended my right leg as the ball approached, planning to catch it on my foot, but instead deflected it awkwardly out of bounds.
The result of my next opportunity was even worse.
It was the goalie again.
This time he’d sent a ball skyward and I was in position to secure possession. Hoping to avoid the accidental poke-out-of-bounds, I backpedaled into position for a “header.” But as the ball approached — fast — I was caught between shuffles and it landed about a foot in front of me and bounced over my head, rolling out of bounds.
A few minutes later, I mishandled another pass, this time finding a way to let it roll between my legs. I slipped while trying to recover, fell down, then slipped again as I tried to get up.
Flat on my stomach, I let my forehead sink into the mud.
At this moment, I could actually feel my spirit break.
It’s one thing not being able to exceute, but to not even have the energy to lift your leg? Or even talk? Or pick yourself up out of the mud after falling on your face?
I was utterly helpless, a detriment to the team. I was like an overweight house dog teamed with Alaskan Malamutes to pull an Iditarod sled.
Making matters worse, there was no way off the field. I was trapped.
My team had zero subs, no one to save me, the clock never stopped and there were no referees to at least temporarily stop play by calling a foul. Had there been refs, I may have intentionally tried for a red card simply to end the pain, something violent. My only option was to walk off the field midway through the match.
So I stuck it out.
Hoping to find a second wind, I throttled back on the running. My intention was not to be lazy, or lackadaisical, but simply to preserve energy and use what little I had in an efficient manner.
This made perfect sense, I reasoned, but the tactic didn’t sit well with my teammates.
The number “205” soon became the three-digit chorus Team 3 sang anytime something went wrong. My number was barked, it seemed, every other play. I quickly grew to hate the number “205.” The tone in my teammates’ voices shifted from confusion and sympathy to frustration. Then borderline disgust.
Soon the ball, coincidentally, stopped coming my way.
I was the only player on the field whose lungs weren’t delivering. I hadn’t kicked a soccer ball since my days as a mediocre midfielder on a prepubescent team more than a decade ago. And of all the stomachs under those scrubby orange practice jerseys we wore, mine was the only one that hung out.
For the first time in 24 years of existence, there was nobody who I could point to and say, “Hey, at least I’m not that guy.”
I was the worst player on the field. Easily.
Had we shuffled the lineups following that game, I would have been the last one chosen for the next. And who knows if I’d even be selected? It was so evident I was in a league of my own that I’m convinced my team would have preferred to play a man down than with me on their side.
There even came a point near the end of the game when I was compelled to confess to my teammates who I was and why I was there.
This wasn’t something I wanted to do. I had hoped to hold my own, to put forth at least a competitive effort. But it just wasn’t going to happen.
So after one particularly pitiful effort — I ended up on all fours after an opponent dribbled by me with some sort of zig-zag move — I trudged over to a teammate and confessed.
“Dude,” I whispered to a teammate I had disappointed, again, wheezing something along the lines of, “I’m a reporter. I’m writing an article about this. Sorry I suck.”
It was a relief, and for the duration of the match, I confided in him.
When I’d finally had enough, I hobbled off the field early, defeated, ducked out of the rain to nurse my aching legs. My ego was probably in worse shape.
Sweat and snot covered my cheeks, I had no way to clean them because my hands and jersey were caked with mud and grass. Gasping for breath, I was welcomed by a coach.
“Don’t worry, you weren’t even the first person I cut,” snickered assistant coach Andrew Chapman.
Impossible, I thought.
“See that 10-year-old girl in the parking lot?”
“Oh,” I said.