We drew our second game against FC Prishtina -- a team that plays in the top division in Kosovo. The game was tightly contested. Frustrations overflowed frequently with several players getting into shoving matches and contests of insults. Which was ridiculous since the language barrier meant that neither side could really understand the other, though profanity has a way of making itself obvious.
In the early part of the game, they won a corner against us. As their player went to take it, the referee was forced to stop the game due to an incident in the box: a shoving match had ensued and it threatened to turn into something more. Their midfielder, who was away from the action, yelled at the perpetrators, "Friendly! It's a friendly!" before throwing up his hands and shaking his head in frustration.
I became a victim of said discomfiture. My legs were consistently swept from underneath me whenever I was on the ball, which, after the first few occurrences, I began to suspect was not simply an act of individual frustration but was a bonafide strategy to keep me at bay. Commendable. It hardly worked, though, as I still managed to have the best two chances for our side in the game: a long range half-volley with the left foot from outside the box that skimmed the crossbar, and a right-footed volley from a corner, which forced the keeper into a spectacular save.
Both of these efforts came from me lingering at the edge of the box during set-pieces. I, as a dignified human being, hate going into the crowd for headers. There are brutes in there, and I'm emotionally allergic to being hit in the face with elbows. I bruise too easily, and this face is all I have.
Dallying outside the box is usually the best bet for the technically gifted and morally upright player. Unfortunately, it comes with the worst of responsibilities if the other team is smart enough to capitalize. Which our opponents were.
We had a corner towards the end of the second half. They managed to clear the ball with me standing in my designated spot: centrally on top of the 18. The ball was cleared to the left side of their defensive third, where one of their wingers was eagerly waiting. He was supposed to be marked by my midfield partner -- we played a 4-4-2. And he was, I could swear my life on it, but when the ball got to him, he sped past my partner so effortlessly that the attempt at marking could only be described as nominal.
I sympathize with my partner's struggle. I hate defending as a general rule, I've written before that it was for the aesthetically unfortunate -- ugly people. But more than that, I hate losing, and I especially despise giving up easy goals, as we seemed on the verge of doing at that very moment. I hate defending but I accept it as a necessary evil, one that I have the misfortune of being good at one-on-one.
The problem with playing with trialists, or generally with unfamiliar players, is that you simply don't know each other. Each person is playing for their own individual goals. The designation of "team" is in name only. You can't possibly understand the playing style and movements of players you've never met before in less than a week. It's impossible. This means that you find out each other's strengths and, more critically, their weaknesses in the heat of battle.
When the opponent's winger started a Kingsley-Coman-vs.-Juventus-style run down my left, which was his right, I found out that my midfield partner was short on the defensive ability, the fitness and the mentality to chase him down.
I watched him stare at the winger as his mark breezed down the field. It felt like a frozen moment in time. I knew what I had to do. I knew what the coach expected me to do. I knew what my teammates hoped that I would do. But there in the shadows of the breathtaking Taurus mountains, I sighed so deeply at the prospect of it. Damn these fast-twitch muscles and natural speed.
I took off in pursuit. The winger was just a few yards shy of the halfway line and I was starting from the top of their box, I feel as if I have to reiterate this. I was chasing this man from ... never mind. I caught up to him inside our defensive third. I was dead tired but knew that I didn't have to make the tackle, my job there was only to slow him down, keep him to the outside, block the cross or shepherd him to the sideline where he would be useless. Maybe block the cross if he tried it.
Which he did, and which I blocked. Their resultant corner was caught by our goalkeeper. As I jogged back into position, my partner called my name, gave me a thumbs up and thanked me for compensating for him. He then told me that his hamstring was feeling tight and he couldn't make that run because of it.
In this moment, I had two choices. This is the most terrible aspect of trying to be a good person: being good isn't an achievable permanent state. In the same way that someone is never really recovered from addiction, they are simply stringing together days of sobriety, being "good" relies on constant action and self-assessment. You need to be aware of your bad thought processes, correct them and battle against the ease of falling back into being a bad human.
On one hand, I could have criticized him and questioned why he didn't ask for a substitution if he was hurt. That would have descended into me lambasting him for being weak in the tackle and naive of the situation that was at hand during the corner. I was angry enough to do so. I was pissed off. I had just sprinted almost the entire field.
On the other, I could choose to empathize with his limitations and save him the public shaming.
I knew he wasn't injured, he just didn't have the energy or ability to do what had to be done. You can't ask someone to do what they are not built to do. He was already hard on himself, and his excuse-making was evidence of that inner shame.
I looked up at him and said: "Don't worry about it, I needed the exercise anyway."
We laughed and began playing again. Less than 10 minutes later, we won another corner against them. It was cleared to the same winger. This time, my midfield partner wasn't anywhere around him. No, instead he began yelling my name to chase the man down again. Un-fucking-believable. I've never hated the sound of my own name so much, and I can't even begin to describe the anger and disgust I felt while I ran down that field.
Don't do people favors, ever. Burn everything instead.