I have always loved soccer. Always have. Always will.
But today, I was reminded once more why that love will never go away.
High school soccer season started at the beginning of this year and among all the teams in the nation, my attention was focused on Mira Costa High School in Southern California. I did have my own personal issues that did not allow me to actually go to a lot of the earlier games but after I shaped up and started talking to my younger brother again, I was very much engaged in the process.
My son and I went to every game we could possibly go to, home or away. It was difficult, having to chase around a very energetic one-and-a-half-year-old while also trying to watch your youngest brother play Varsity soccer his senior year. But as much as I could, I was there. Watching, analyzing and silently cheering.
Mira Costa’s Boys’ Varsity Soccer Team placed 2nd in their league, which guaranteed them a spot in the playoffs for CIF.
Friday, February 20th, was their game at home against MLK High School and to say that it was a nail biter would be an understatement.
The game was fast-paced the whole time and although there was definite sloppiness (which was understandable because of the pressure of the game), it never stopped being exciting.
MLK High scored the first goal in the early parts of the first half but Costa quickly reciprocated with an amazing header that looked spectacular on video.
The first half stayed 1-1 but the second half quickly brought on just as much excitement with a quick goal from Costa in the first minutes of the second that gave them a 2-1 lead for a majority of the game.
As a fan of Costa, I wanted the clock to run out. I was recording the game and watching it through my lens a majority of the time but I would turn my head constantly hoping the clock would run out.
My dad has this superstition that if you don’t “kill” the opposing team and score a lot of goals on them when you have the momentum, you give them the opportunity to gain their own momentum and if you’re not careful, you can see the gain slip out from right under you. I kept thinking that during the last ten minutes of the second half. The fact that Costa was giving so many fouls close to goal and corner kicks made me even more nervous.
It was too much. I started shaking. My video was of horrible quality because of how unsteady my hands were.
Then it happened. A free kick for MLK High from 20 yards out and it was the last minutes of the game. The MLK High player kicks the ball into the box and a header leads the ball just above the goalie’s glove and into the goal.
Regulation time ended with a 2-2 tie that resulted in two 10-minute extra time halves and under Bay League rules, extra time halves are determined by a golden goal (first time to score automatically wins).
But no one did. There were some close calls in those 20 minutes of extra time but nothing came of it.
It was inevitable. They would go to penalties.
I hate penalties. Well, no. That’s not true. I don’t hate them. But they are a game of chance, and when it comes to soccer, that’s the last thing a player wants to do—leave it up to chance.
And the way these penalties began, I started feeling like the worse was going to happen.
MLK made their first goal and Costa missed their first one. Then MLK made their second and so did Costa. But then Costa missed their third one. It had to be perfect. Costa’s goalie needed to block three consecutive goals.
And he did. And he did so brilliantly.
And as I watched the Costa players run towards their goalie, their hero, I was reminded of watching professionals do the same thing to their goalie after PKs. I looked down as my brother, 17-year-old Kikan Lopez, run with his team, jump up and down with excitement and hug everyone around him in utter happiness that brought tears to my eyes.
This is why I love soccer. This is what it is all about.
It is not the endorsement deals or the hairdos or the shoes or who is the cutest or whatever else. It’s not even about the money. Seriously, guys it is NOT about the money.
It is the way the sport makes someone feel. It is about watching players on the international stage cheering as they advance to the next stage in a tournament or a league game the way I saw my brother and his teammates cheer today after their victory.
How every professional—from Pele, Ronaldo, Messi, Gio Dos Santos, Theo Walcott, whoever you follow—was once my little brother. Just a boy on a team that was not going to make millions of dollars from their game and would not be getting endorsement deals but who played the game because he loved it.
Because this sport matters and the way you feel when you see your team be victorious and you look up at the sky to thank God for letting you experience this moment and then look out into the stands to share this amazing moment with your family—that’s what this sport is about.
It is a simple game. But damn, is it beautiful,
A round of applause again to Mira Costa for advancing onto the next round of the CIF playoffs and a big shout out to my brother Kikan. A young man who I have seen grow from a small child with crazy hair playing the sport that he has always loved to a strong young gentlemen who not just loves the game, but lives it every day of his life. The way our dad taught us. The way we live it with the rest of our siblings and the way I’m going to teach my children about this incredible game.
Congratulations, Kikan. And thank you for showing me why I love this sport so much.