It’s a funny old game. It hasn’t really quite taken off here in America yet, so there will be a number of you reading this and thinking, “Here we go again, another damn soccer article from that damn Scotsman,” but I can’t apologize.
Despite the lack of mass following, one thing I really do admire about the Americans is that when they do something, they do it wholeheartedly. In a nutshell, they “go big or go home.”
This fact is never truer than when you look at those who do follow soccer here. Even though they might not have a hugely expansive knowledge of the game, they get so excited about it. The number of followers might be down, but what they lack in numbers they make up for in enthusiasm and passion.
This can play into your hands, or it can tear your heart out. More often than not, during a season it will do both, sometimes in the same game, which can be profusely heartbreaking.
The great Bill Shankly once said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
This may seem like a cute little phrase that sounds good when you say it, but it’s the truth for so many. I know a few of these advocates of soccer very well, especially one, whom I know inside out.
They are here in Maryville, here at this school.
You may have noticed, in the past week or so, a few dejected-looking soccer players trudging around campus. Usually at this time of year, this is normal service for our men’s team, but unfortunately the women are experiencing “GSAC-itis” this time around, as well.
The nature of our conference makes for a frustrating situation. We are easily the best team in the conference, but we don’t get an automatic bid.
This means every regular season game has added pressure for us. Whereas other teams just need to improve and gel over the course of the season then hit top gear for conference tournament, we find ourselves in a cup final situation every single game.
Every stat is crucial, every goal and every game can make or break us.
All we needed was a chance. In a knockout situation, we are easily good enough to hang with any team in the nation.
That’s why it hurts so much; that’s why we feel so dejected.
These weeks at the end of the semester eat away at my sanity because I find myself in an endless loop of reflecting over “what ifs” and “if onlys.”
This team should have gone to the national tournament. The team before us should have gone to the national tournament. And I think it’s safe to say the 2009 team should have gone to the national tournament.
We had the talent, just not the breaks.
I now find myself in a catch-22. I am extremely excited about next season because we get to say good riddance to that farcical GSAC and move to the USA South Athletic Conference, a move which comes with an automatic bid. This is going to be a great challenge for us and really puts the power in our own hands.
Nevertheless, we move there with a young and relatively inexperienced team. I do wish that the latest installment of eligible alumni game vets had a crack at it, but that’s the way things go.
Next year, when the pressure is off and the expectations are lightened, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the young guys flourish and we make a run in the NCAA tournament.
It would be easy to say that we simply didn’t do enough this year to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament and that’s why we didn’t get picked.
But that pill is extremely hard to swallow when watching the tournament selection show and seeing seven loses or eight loses show up on the records of those who made it.
We were another of the ones that got away. I feel for the guys because I really wanted it for them this year.
All I will say is that I think there is something fundamentally askew with the tournament selection process. We feel hard done by, but no one else cares. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.
However, I cannot help but feel as though the NCAA take the nice, juicy, pedigree meat that Maryville College soccer are just about to sink their teeth into and douse it in gasoline or rat poison.
Another year has come and gone, another GSAC conference has been tied up, but I will say this much: I’m glad we won’t have a chance to make it four in a row. We’ve moved on to bigger and better things.
We’ll see you next year Christopher Newport & co. You better be ready, because we sure will.