MESAC JV Girl’s Soccer: The “Underdogs”

A midfielder from Dubai American Academy sprints down the sideline, barely losing possession as she nimbly makes her way towards the opposing half. She gives a hard pass in front of a striker, who’s around 5 yards away from the box. Unexpectedly, she lobs the ball up high into the air, over the heads of four AES defenders. The only way to get around them – over them. The ball soars up into the air, and heads straight for the guarded goal where the AES goalie stands, ready, focused, oblivious to the screams and commentary going around. The ball heads closer to the goal, just below the crossbar. The goalie jumps. One against the ball. It’s the last five minutes. This is it. What determines the outcome. This is it. Photo Credit: ACS Photographer Before On a few semi-chilly mid-November mornings, around 30 girls ranging from grades 8 through 12 arrived at the Auxi Gym to play a few drills and matches of a game they all shared in common: Soccer. The coaches studied individual players as matches went on. Every girl was expected to put in their best, and they did. Soon after, the coaches had made their decisions on who had been selected for Junior Varsity (the only option for 8th graders), and who’d be selected for Varsity in a chance to travel and play in the international tournaments in Abu Dhabi or Doha. The teams had been decided. Practices started in mid-November and went on till days before the tournament in January. During the first few practices, the Junior Varsity girls team had around 12-13 girls, which meant that the entire team only had 1 to 2 subs off the pitch. Three girls who had even made the team had quit. The skill level and experience of the girls varied, and it was evident. From 0 experience to around 8 years of hard work and training. This was one diverse team in skill, passion, knowledge, and physical capability (especially height). From those first few practices? With only one experienced MESAC Soccer player, anyone would admit that this girls team had hardly a shot against the tough, skilled, and experienced players in the tournament. They were the “Underdogs”. But boy were they wrong. During Photo Credit: ACS Photographer After around 3 months of practicing, with three new members to the girl’s team and a qualifying team of 15, the Junior Varsity girls team along with the JV boys, flew to Abu Dhabi for the MESAC JV Soccer tournament held in ACS – the American Community School. Despite the joy of being in airports and without family, the most anticipated and exciting things were the matches and games they had ahead of them for the next three days at ACS, and the stadium at the New York University of Saadiyat. Looking at the rosters of each team, the JV girls were the youngest; having girls from only grades 8 and 9 compared to grades 8 through 10. The real pressure began. After the opening ceremony and two girls matches at ACS, it was the AES girl’s turn to play against ASD (the American School of Dubai) in the ‘Round Robin’ (a tournament where every team plays each other to determine the rankings). After a quick practice and the customary coin toss, the ref. blew the starting whistle. They were off. There were no goals scored in the first half, yet ASD had quite a few shots, some on target. AES contained and played fair defense, leaving the first half 0-0. With a quick discussion as a team at halftime, both teams got back on the opposite sides of the field. The whistle blew once again, and they were off for the second time. The first 15 minutes went well, with AES maintaining good possession. However, with one pass to a striker on ASD, who lobbed the ball up in the air to narrowly miss the crossbar – the score became 1-0. The game ended. A loss for AES. But they had two more days to play, and another match that same day to redeem themselves. Photo Credit: ACS Photographer AES got on the field wearing white yet again, to go against ACS – the host team. With a 0 all first half, with just 6 minutes to go, ACS scored in the second half. 1-0 losses for AES on Day 1, against players and teams who were taller, more skilled, and more experienced than they were. Coming in as the underdogs, they earned the two team’s respect, just narrowly missing to rank last for the day. 2 more game days to go. Photo Credit: ACS Photographer The next day, all 5 girls teams departed from ACS to the New York University of Saadiyat, to play in a stadium on a field bigger than they’ve ever played on before. One setback – the wind. AES was to play their first match against ABA (the American British Academy), as the third match of the day. Going with “a new mind and a new game”, as Coach Muca always told the JV girls, the whistle blew and the girls began. But, into the first half, ABA had managed to score 2 goals. The half-time whistle blew. They went back in with “a new half” in mind and kept possession the entire second half with shots on target. Another loss, but AES gained the respect of yet another team. Soon after, AES then played their next match against DAA (Dubai American Academy). The game started. Soon after, the whistle blew out, and a DAA player was on the floor, just outside of the box. The ref. raised her hand, and signaled for the ball to be on the white spot a few yards away from the goal. A penalty kick. DAA struck just off to the side, and in was a goal. 1-0. “Keep it going, keep it going!” Yelled the players on AES off to the side. The game resumed, but soon the ref. blew out her whistle yet again, placing the ball on the white spot facing AES’s goal yet again. DAA kicked, and it went into the back of the net, just nearly passing the goalie. 2-0. The game ends. DAA, one of the toughest and most experienced teams in the tournament, won only because of 2 penalties. The respect of another team. Last on the leaderboard. No wins. 1 more day to go. “I just want us to go home with one goal. Just one,” said Freddy, right-mid, Grade 9. Photo Credit: ACS Photographer Back at ACS grounds like Day 1, the round robin was over. The matches were determined with seeds (rankings like 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on). The girls were as determined as ever to make a comeback, and come either first, second, or third place. “We can either win it or lose it. I want to have one win and go home with something other than a badge,” said Amaya, left-mid/striker, Grade 8. The girls from AES would play for 4th place against DAA. If they came with a win, they would play for 3rd place. If they lost, they’d go home with 5th place and no more matches for the day. The AES girls were determined to not let that happen. They stepped on the field – this could be their last time playing a match for the season. The whistle blew. The game had started. In the first half, AES was in full defense and maintained steady possession. The first half ended 0 all. Soon after, with motivation from coaches and teammates, the girls started the second half. The first 15 minutes were tiring, with pressure on both teams. On the last 5 minutes though, DAA get the ball. A midfielder from Dubai American Academy sprints down the sideline, barely losing possession as she nimbly makes her way towards the opposing half. She gives a hard pass in front of a striker, who’s around 5 yards away from the box. Unexpectedly, she lobs the ball up high into the air, over the heads of four AES defenders. The only way to get around them – over them. The ball soars up into the air, and heads straight for the guarded goal where the AES goalie stands, ready, focused, oblivious to the screams and commentary going around. The ball heads closer to the goal, just below the crossbar. The goalie jumps. One against the ball. It’s the last five minutes. This is it. What determines the outcome. This is it. Photo Credit: ACS Photographer Photo Credit: ACS Photographer After The ball goes in. 1-0 DAA. Those few remaining minutes come to a close. The AES JV Girls place 5th for the tournament, yet they get voted as the best sports in the tournament, tying with ACS. What they also won? The respect of the opposing teams, as they appeared as the “Underdogs”. What no one realizes is how great the team did. With only 1 experienced MESAC player, the majority of the team being 8th graders, and some players who had hardly ever played soccer before: the JV girls played pretty damn good. The max goal difference was 2 goals, even against the toughest, biggest, more experienced teams. So when you laugh at the end results of coming 5th? There’s way more to it than you think. In almost every which way, this team were the “Underdogs”. Almost everyone thought so, and probably you too. But this team of 15 players has proven you wrong. #AwESome #MESAC #Sports

MESAC JV Girl’s Soccer: The “Underdogs”