(Note: This is the first installment of the much-ballyhooed and ambitious project of mine entitled 2007: A Soccer Odyssey. For those of you hyperlinktually challenged, the basic premise of this project is to write about all kinds of soccer; pro, amateur, recreational at venues large and small. Enjoy!)
Providence, RI- It was moments after 10:00am on Sunday morning, just after I had attended 9am Mass at my parish. Typically, my plans call for a mid-morning Sunday breakfast with friends about a half-hour after church ends. However, with Mother's Day surely celebrated by the very mothers who waitress at our usual Sunday morning breakfast spot, I found myself with hands empty of any responsibilities for the remainder of the morning. So I did what any single, 25 year old without any other morning obligations would do: I looked for soccer.
I traversed on the Veterans Memorial Parkway before jumping onto 195 West and trailing off onto the Gano Street exit. At the mouth of the off-ramp, I turned 90 degrees left toward India Point Park, and slowly approached the shadows cast by the large Washington Bridge underpass. After reappearing from the shadows, as if entering an entirely new world, I found it. I found soccer.
I parked my car along the sandy, dirt caked sidestreet that snakes along the field. My first sight was of the players. They were warming up, tying boots, stretching, and cracking jokes in Spanish. Of course, the language need not be familiar when experiencing the game. It's much simpler than nouns, verbs, conjugations and commas. One ball, two goals, and 22 guys. It doesn't get more clear cut or straightforward.
The second thing I noticed was the pitch. It resembled a large sandbox with complimentary patches of grass, for even the downtrodden sod cannot keep up with the excitement of a whole day's worth of wear and tear. The park itself is a scenic semblance of trees, bushes, and small playground, all of which overlook the water's edge. Menacing high above the field itself is a large powerline tower, which is partnered with others along the East Providence and Providence shorelines.
The game begins a few ticks after 10:00am, and the yells, grunts and taps of the ball pepper the ears. In the distance, I can hear monotonous sound of 18 wheelers and cars speeding by along the Washington Bridge pervade the unspoiled scene, but not enough to distract me from the ball battle in front before me.
Many of the players look to be in their 30s and 40s, many dark and stocky, their skills clearly waned with the passage of time. There is a fresh faced boy wonder among the men who blazes through his elder statesmen left and right, like the roadrunner through a phalanx of coyotes. He can't be older than 14, and yet, he composes himself with the ball with the grace and flair of a young Diego Maradona.
They all wear matching club jerseys. The team with the young impresario sports the Boca Juniors-styled blue and gold shirts, while their opponents don royal blue and white jerseys. Both shirts have emblems spelled out in Spanish.
Along the sidelines dwell small birches, under which lawn chairs and picnic table reside. Grills and canopies are carefully posted along a gray concrete patch that runs parallel to the touchline. The smell of spicy ethic foods permeate the morning air under a spring cyan sky, as the sizzle and clank of spatulas and forks scraping the grills create a sound that wonderfully complements the crunch of cleats and patter of the ball.
Blue and gold dominate the early morning match. The boy out duels and outpaces the field, and scores four of his team's six goals. The other team is brushed back at every counterattack, and they fail to manage a goal past the heavy set goalkeeper for the blue and gold.
The rays of sun begin beat down as noon approaches. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was only the first of many games that were played throughout the second day of the weekend. As my stomach grumbled in anticipation of a hearty lunch with my pals in place of the absent breakfast, I hesitantly drove off, back to the unforgiving world of non-soccer.