Pickup Soccer: Why Men Play, Part 1


Men nostalgic for the game they once played come to relive their boyhood at pickup soccer. To score that goal they missed playing as children in the backyards of their homes and on street corners with friends. To reverse the goal they conceded as goalie when they let their team down.

Other grown-ups come to make the team they knew they should have made, had a child-hating adult or coach recognized their talents and the hidden resolve in their hearts.

Every Saturday at 7 in the morning, middle-aged and elderly men saunter individually and in pairs across a tarred parking lot and through a glass front door, making their way to the indoor soccer building.

Their eyes gleam with a need for revenge as their memories flash back over the decades, and their voices betray recognition of the urgency of a life slipping away without the necessary correction in their soccer history. Age, they say, holds no barriers. Soccer skills reside in the heart, not in brittle legs and aching knees.

Each participant stops by the dark brown front desk to pay the ten dollars admittance fee to a cynical, goatee-mustached attendant old enough to compete.

‘Don’t allow the youths to break your leg, Matt,’ the attendant often warns with the grit of cynicism in his voice, after receiving the payments and putting the money in a drawer.

The warning often prompts Matt to have a quick inner dialogue with himself. In no way did he see or feel an aging Matt. Could his mind be lying to him? Does our brain deceive us about the state of our body? What did the attendant see in him that he did not see in himself?

Poorer by ten dollars, Matt turned left as always, swaggered forward, and followed a short corridor. On the right were bathroom signs, one for males and the other for females. A swinging brown wooden door let him into the dazzling blue-white light of the soccer field.

A cathedral-high ceiling capped the indoor arena. Metal frames embedded with fluorescent bulbs crisscrossed its matrix, while slowly rotating fans hung with poles a vault jumper would envy provided aeration.

Foam padded the side walls of the field. A sheet of netting descended from the side metals in the roof to the artificial Astroturf floor beneath. Between the net and the padded walls was a space with three silver metal benches. Movable goalposts occupied both ends of the field and emergency exit signs hung over two doors on opposite sides.

The players were warming up when Matt entered. He was wearing a plain black T-shirt and red short pants, a little loose around the waist, which he tightened while walking to join the warm up: quad stretches, short runs and short passes, and so forth.

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