There must be thousands of ten year old boys in New England that play soccer. About forty of the best players from the very best teams were hand-picked to be evaluated by the best coaches.
Of those top forty, twenty-eight were cut. They picked twelve players to form the all-stars. From thousands down to twelve. Twelve boys were plucked from the masses to form an elite team—an elite team that would make just one appearance at a tournament and then disband.
They had to work out a few kinks in their first match. They won 12-3, allowing three goals. Their second match was 10-0. Their third match, against us, was 14-0. I was surprised someone kept count. Towards the end of the game they were scoring every few seconds it seemed.
We would gather the ball out of our net and trudge back to midfield to kick off, to be trampled again by the little Rooneys, Maradonas and Peles. They played in a stampeding rush down the middle of the field. With flashy footwork to be sure, and passing when necessary, but like marauders all eager for a goal. They played like what they were —mercenaries. Hired guns.
All of the other teams at the tournament were exactly that — teams. Teams that played and practiced, and ate and laughed and traveled together. And there was one team at the tournament called NEFC that had been playing together for years, probably since they were only five years old. They were amazing, and unlike any U11 soccer team I had ever seen. In their match against us they held possession of the ball at least 90% of the time. I do not exaggerate. And when we did somehow intercept a pass, they were upon us, deftly extracting the ball to resume their hypnotic passing.
They were mesmerizing as they glided around the field, passing sharply from one to another to another. After they scored 6 goals against us (in the first half), their coach instructed them to stop scoring. So instead, they would pass up the alleys, to the corners, into the middle to create a scoring opportunity. And then not score. Instead they would pass away from our goal to the outside and back down the far side of the field, all the way back to the goalie. The goalie would reset the ball, and they would commence to pass again up the field to build a scoring position. Again and again, while our players stabbed at the ball and ran in circles, chasing their spellbinding passes.
Then their coach told them to play on their off foot—that is, pass and dribble using primarily their less agile, non-dominant foot. It didn’t matter. They didn’t lose the ball. We’re a good team, and we had a great experience at the tournament. But against NEFC it was all clearly a training exercise for them as they continued to hone their skills together.
And so it was destined that the all-star elite team would meet the NEFC team in the tournament finals. NEFC won 6-0, and although I didn’t see the game first hand, I bet their coach again asked them to stop scoring after 6 goals.