Talk of the Town - Monday night futbol April 15 2000

Soccer players have a ball playing indoors

The toilets at All-American Indoor Soccer Complex are clogged with paper towels, cigarette butts and a week-old pile of shit. The Astroturf is faded and torn. The roof leaks. And none of the water fountains or soda machines work.

But it's the best place in Atlanta to play indoor soccer.

For the past 109 Mondays, our scrappy six-man squad has been knocking it around at All-American. To make our weekly 7 p.m. games, I cut my afternoon classes short, and Evan, Andy, Ian and Adam sneak away from work early. Daniel, who was transferred to Alabama last year, drives two hours to play indoors with us each week.

We first met two years ago on an overcrowded house team - the leftover team assembled from non-roster players. After a few seasons, the six of us decided to form our own squad: "The Team Formerly Known as House." Later, we shortened it to "Formerly House," and thanks to the owner's misspelling on the schedule, we're now "Formally House."

We're anything but formal. We're a dirty, disheveled, rag-tag group of ball players without uniforms or shin guards. And tonight, we're playing the championship game against a well-groomed team from Reinhardt College. They're younger and faster than us, and they jump out to a 2-0 advantage.

"This is sloppy soccer, fellas," Andy mutters after the second goal. He's right. We're holding on to the ball too long, then desperately dumping it downfield. Nobody is making runs or opening up space. We're dogging it on defense.

And in the back of our minds, we're thinking about the past five sessions of early playoff exits. After winning every regular season game, Formally House has crumpled like wet toilet paper in the tournament. Ten minutes into tonight's match, we're showing signs of another championship choke.

Down two goals, we tense up and try too hard. Ian dribbles into a wall of defenders. Daniel forces a long pass through the midfield, which is quickly intercepted by Reinhardt. Evan jaws at the ref, who yells right back at him. On defense, I stab recklessly at the ball and get nutmegged by Reinhardt's forward.

It's Adam, our goalie, who is keeping us in the game. He turns away an upper-90 bomb, and makes a quick kick-save on the rebound. Seconds later, Reinhardt fires another far-post cannon. Adam dives and gets enough of his fingertips on the shot to deflect it off the boards. Then he springs cat-like to his feet and pounces on the ball.

On the alert, Adam heaves a long pass downfield to Andy, who is breaking along the left wing. Andy settles the ball with his chest, volleys it out of the air toward Reinhardt's goal and finds the back of the net.

It's a big goal for us, and the momentum seems to shift. Seconds later, Evan scores the equalizer on a one-touch pass from Daniel. Several bulbs have burned out on the scoreboard clock, so it's hard to distinguish between five, six and eight. But it looks like their's about 16 minutes remaining in the match.

With the score knotted at two, the game gets more physical. I chop at the ankles of a Reinhardt forward and shoulder him against the Plexiglas. He retaliates with an elbow to my chin on the next play. Ian's slide tackle stops a breakaway. Andy's shirt gets ripped as he is pulled down from behind by a Reinhardt midfielder. Play on, the ref says.

Then, with five (or six or eight) minutes left, Daniel is able to poke the ball away from a defender. The ball squirts out to Andy, who bends it past the outstretched arms of the Reinhardt keeper. We add another goal in the closing minute and hang on to win the Monday night league championship 4-2.

Afterward, the six of us sprawl out on the turf and listen to the faint hum of the scoreboard. Andy ices a swollen knee, Ian wraps his sprained ankles and Evan nurses a pulled right quadricep. Our legs are rug burned and our shins bruised. And we're already thinking about next week.

Why do we keep coming back? Why does Daniel drive two hours from Alabama for 50 minutes of soccer? Why do we return to this broken-down warehouse every Monday, when we could be digging our cleats into freshly cut outdoor fields or watching soccer on TV?

It only happens once or twice a season. Unexpectedly, in the middle of the game, the six of us find a rhythm and everything clicks. We thread together a stitchwork of wall passes and overlaps. Our one-touch passes are like pinball. Our runs off the ball are automatic. We dance downfield together in smooth synchronicity, orchestrating perfectly timed passes all the way to goal.

When it happens, it's art. The faded green carpet becomes our canvas and each pass is another brushstroke. And for a few moments, I feel closer to my teammates than any other human beings on Earth.

That's why.

You wanna play? Call All-American Indoor Soccer at 770-578-6001 for information or register online at www.aaisoccer.com.

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