There are many stories when your girls play in a Latino soccer summer soccer league, and Christmas is be a strange time to tell one. But it was a proud moment, and as it turns out, spiritual, even.
As I scrape my windshield on winter mornings, my thoughts drift to summer.
My girls love to play. They’ll pull off a dirt road with me to a dusty field, beyond taco trucks and amid Mexican polka rattling from car stereos.
They love to play, even when that Good Ol’ Boy team falls behind by 3, 4, 5, 8 goals against the Latin Coalition. Players switch jerseys between games and play wherever they want. It’s Us against Them. My girls thrive on that.
Half Latino and half white, my girls can carve out a nation all their own.
Elise is a midfielder by trade. She’s a goalkeeper out of necessity. They used to call her “Mad-dog.”
The opposing team stops warm-ups when she gets in there with her gloves to take shots. Players smile, shake their heads. A girl. But there’s no disrespect, not out loud.
How it will play out in the heat of a match?
The first time Elise slides out and takes a kid out at the ankles, they understand.
This story didn’t center on the girl goalkeeper, at first. It was about a figure larger than life, a Great Brown Hope that ascended all the passing and foot skills going around.
A prodigal son pulled a gold and blue shirt over his mushroom of a hairdo, and the buzz began. “Chucho!” they yelled, and pointed.
“That’s my cousin!” people bragged as he touched his toes and ran in place. “He’s my brother!” another clamored as he twisted side to side, and smiled at the girls who gushed over him. “Chucho!” rang out as he took the field.
The ground shook. Angels sang.
Chucho had skill. Chucho had flash. Chucho had boy-band hair, and a million-dollar smile.
Chucho’s given name is Jesus. Yes, hey-SOOS is different from GEE-zus, but still.
None of that mattered to my girls. Marie juked him with footwork. She cut him off and bumped him as he tried to speed past. Her teammates saw how a little rough play slowed his roll. They bodied up when he had the ball.
One farmboy of a defender took it just a bit too far, and put Chucho in the dirt.
The whistle blew, his legions gasped, and when the dust cleared, Chucho smiled, and all was well in the world. Whew. The people’s cousin, the tribe’s brother, took his place at the penalty stripe.
Elise stepped back on the line for the penalty kick, pushed back her ponytail, and narrowed her eyes.
“You can do it, Chucho!”
“Have my baby, Chucho!”
(OK, maybe that one didn’t ring out. But someone thought it.)
The whistle blew. The Anointed One ripped a shot to lift his legend, against the girl keeper.
# # #
Somewhere, kids play in the street, with a homemade football, with bare feet. Somewhere, children sit in the barber’s chair and declare, “como Chucho!” They want the ‘do. Maybe if they have great hair, they’ll also have great game.
Someday, perhaps we’ll watch Chucho again lead U.S. Soccer to the Promised Land.
We can say, “We knew him then.”
We can also say, “Chucho didn’t score on us that day.”
In summer’s heat and swirling dust and presence of greatness, the girl goalkeeper won. Not fooled by a fake, undaunted by the smolder of a smile. Elise stopped Chucho’s shot in the air, tumbled to the ground, and clutched the ball under her left arm.
Chucho stood with hands on hips as his teammates drifted back to play defense.
In the stunned silence that followed the inconceivable, one dad, at least, got caught up in the moment.
“Chucho THAT!!” I yelled with a pumped fist, and the fans around me turned. They smiled. They understood.
There are so many stories when your girls play in a summer Latino soccer league.
Especially when a girl stops Jesus.