So by this time I’m questioning what I’ve got myself into not knowing how serious these guys are or if this is an actual league or just a pick up game (you’d think not considering the facility). All I knew was, Saturday was (translated into English) “soccer testing” and afterwards I could decide if I wanted to play more on Sunday. I got out of the pickup with my bag and started walking to the field. As I walk through the gate I felt the vibe change from warm fuzzy puppies to something like a mix between hungry hyenas’ seeing an easy dinner and several toddlers being interrupted by the jolly green giant. All the while the only thing going through MY mind is feeling a random connection to 2Pac singing All Eyez on Me.
Much like a kid with new toys on Christmas these guys wouldn’t even wait for me to get my boots on before trying to get me out on the pitch. Herrrrrrrre we go I thought. Kick the ball not the ground. Hard to feet soft to space. Keep moving. [repeat] 20 minutes later a whistle blew and the warm up balls (yep they had ‘em) went into the ball bag and the game ball came out. I was tossed a jersey and told to “stay”. While my shorts didn’t have a matching gold number to go with my jersey like theirs, I still felt pretty good. Apparently I’m starting. Sweet.
Game 1 Half 1. Play. 30 minutes later the half time whistle sang. I didn’t do much. I had a few good passes while logging minimal mistakes. My goal was to always be moving into space.
G1H2: About the same…with the addition of getting rolled up by the keeper when I attempted a header that came from a cross delivered by our left forward. Hello ground.
G2: I sat out. I met 2 other guys, one who spoke pretty good English. One was 28 and the other 29 and both were in the top 4 players there. We chat it up for a bit and out comes the request for me to change teams. “You switch. You play for us. We are friends. Yes?” Aww, they’re befriending the lonely foreigner. How cute.
G3H1: I seemed to do a lot more running this half. I had 2 good right-footed crosses and a really sweet chest trap one touch where I passed it back. It was a good 1-2 give n’ go.
G3H2: About half way through I was playing right striker and made a diagonal run towards the goal as my right halfback gave a great through pass. I dribbled to the near corner of the 18 and had a decent ground shot destined for the far post. It went wide by inches. It was still a good feeling though finally getting an acceptable shot off. Not to mention a confidence boost. Five minutes later we had a good left line break and the left striker dribbled to the inside of the 18, got caught up with a defender, and ended up a few feet closer to the goal than him. I was on the 6 by the right post and stopped moving because I had the split thought “ah! Off sides!” Then thought, keep playing, no whistle. I yelled Yep! Yep! And through came the ground ball. The keeper came towards me and after a slight body check, the near post was all mine. “Placement over power” I thought and tapped it in for the goal.
By the end of that game I looked more like a waddling duck than a walking person but the pleasure was certainly worth the pain.
Five blisters, 1 black toenail, 1 goal, 20 new friends, and 3 hours later, it’s easy to say that was the best afternoon I’ve had since being in Korea.
I know now that the get together is just a very official looking series of afternoon pick up games. If there was some sort of newcomer test, I think I passed because they asked me to come play on Sunday on a real grass field. What!? As if this wasn’t awesome enough. Thank you Korea. Thank you WORLD for liking soccer more than the U.S. does.