It’s hard to believe that on this field this team endured one of the most gut-wrenching defeats imaginable, giving up a goal in the final seconds of stoppage time, then another in overtime, when a trip to California for the WPSL Final Four seemed all but assured.
The sun is setting in the background behind glowing clouds. As the players and staff – and me – walk from the parking lot to the bench, Marisa Kresge is loudly naming out her besties. (Marisa does most things loudly.) Teammate Julianne Boyle – unfailingly referred to as JB and as quiet as MK is loud – is her best friend overall. Team assistant Rita Verdi-Hamrick is her best friend on Facebook. And I’m her favorite Twitterer.
There is a certain amount of one-upmanship over who suffered the most. “We were out here until midnight.”
“I got home, and my parents said, ‘Are you going to bed?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding?'”
“I couldn’t get to sleep for hours.”
“It was 4 am before I could lie down.”
Jess Hnatiuk shows up and tapes up Marisa’s ankle. Then all and sundry get in a circle and participate in some sort of keep-away match, with two players in the center trying to disrupt the passes of the players around the edge. The season is over, and still enough players show up to make up a starting lineup and a couple of backups.
General manager Patrick Crawford – who missed the loss because he was out in Texas winning the USASA over-30 championship with his club team – shows up and takes the players and staff off to one side for a long heart-to-heart. Once that’s done, the players start joshing with each other. Laura Kane is playing with some kids. Alexis Prior-Brown chases Terrapin teammate Riley Barger around, catches up with her, pins her to the ground and starts doing something to her that has her laughing hysterically. Pat, who’s coming off the field to talk to me, gestures over his shoulder. “See that,” he says. “That’s a family.”
He’s disappointed in how the season ended, of course, but thinks the team is better than its showing on the day. “We truly feel that – obviously we didn’t play our best – if we play them multiple times we win multiple games. Take that however you want, but obviously we feel we have the better team regardless. Maybe we didn’t play that well on Saturday, but we still had a very good chance to win.”
On the whole, though, he’s delighted. “These girls are fantastic. This is the most fun that I’ve had since I’ve been here and put this together. I can honestly tell you the coaching staff, the owners, the girls – as you can hear now – the season’s over, and we’re out here practicing, having fun, carrying on. This is truly a team, a family, not just for me but for ASA as a whole. We’ve done some special things this year with winning the [USASA] Amateur Cup, and we’ll represent ourselves next year. We look forward to continuing but other than that the season has been an absolute blessing. It’s so much fun in every aspect regardless of what’s happened at the end of the season.”
On the field they’ve started up a three-generation pickup soccer match, with coaches, staffers, players, and offspring. I struggled to transcribe his comments just now because he keeps turning his head away from the microphone to watch what’s going on. I call a halt to the interview, and he springs onto the field.
Arundel Soccer Association president John Hamrick, who just needs a longer beard to be a pretty good Santa Claus, tells me before joining them, “If I have a heart attack tonight, you can’t report that.”
When his wife Rita returns to the field a few minutes later, and I tell her that, she responds. “You’d darn well better report it, to support the charity drive I’ll be running to raise money for my kids!”
Their three offspring are all on the field as well. Rita tells me that daughter Becky – whose age is barely into double-digits – has one overriding ambition in life, to someday play for the Charge. She shows her form well at one point, as Jess tries to get past her and go for goal. The next thing you know, Becky – who seems like she’s half the height of Jess – is heading in the other direction with the ball.
One of the boys is hanging around a few yards out from goal, using a strategy that the offside rule was written to prevent. No one seems to care. He gets the ball, and goalkeeper Alexis pretends to try to save his shot but lets it go by.
Alexis, normally a forward, eventually tires of the defensive role and after one save just drops the ball at her feet and charges downfield with it, weaving her way among players until she’s in range. Her shot is parried, though, and she has to race back to the other end. But no worries – team photographer Ken Harriford is covering.
Later on assistant coach Tarik Walker sends a beautiful cross that John tries to get under at the far post but instead ends up falling flat on his back. No heart attack, though, just lack of coordination.
It’s after 10 pm, and I really need to get going, but I can’t stop watching – or laughing. It may be the most fun I’ve ever had watching a soccer match.
John finally calls for a halt a few minutes later because the lights are about to go out. They quickly pose for a series of team – or is it extended family? – photos, with staffers and kids included. Then everyone starts to collect their things. I wave goodbye and wander off. “Goodbye, StarCityFan!” someone – probably Marisa – shouts. I grin and raise my arms, then head to my car, still smiling.
One of my correspondents expressed a concern as to how well a team survives such a result. I wondered that myself. I had only a vicarious stake in the outcome, but I still had an ache in the pit of my stomach from the result. I could only imagine how the players were feeling. But after this evening I ceased to worry – or to ache.
See you in 2014. Viva la Charge!
All photos except for the sunset and the soccer match courtesy of the ASA Chesapeake Charge.