Every goalkeeper has one dream that surpasses all other dreams. Yes, most keepers aspire to make top-corner saves and stop late-game penalties, but above all, every goalkeeper wants to score a goal.
A full-field boot over the head of the opposing goalkeeper is a welcome possibility, as is making a rare appearance in a striker's shirt. Yet very little can exceed the excitement of a last-minute equalizer.
Yesterday, I finally got to experience that elusive moment of unburdened joy.
My indoor soccer team has a great deal of talent, but an inability to close out games. We have led in all five of our matches heading into the final fixture of the regular season, yet had just a win and a draw to show for it. All three of our defeats came by just one goal, as did our only victory — making for some tense games and agonizing endings.
On this particular Wednesday night, my team took a halftime lead — as usual — only to piss it away in the second half; and after three consecutive goals conceded, we found ourselves down one with 10 minutes to play.
I implored the team to push forward for an equalizer while I ran around like a madman to collect any clearance that entered our defensive half. After each successive attack ended with a miscued shot or an unconverted goalmouth scramble, it seemed that our team was destined for another narrow defeat.
The broken scoreboard only added to the drama, as neither team knew how much time remained in the match.
The ref indicated there were 20 seconds left, and moments later we won a free kick just inside the opposition half. I decided this was the moment to push forward. I was nearly across the halfway line already so I didn't have far to go, but a nervous flutter still pulsated in my chest as I ran into the penalty area.
The ball was sent forward and the ensuing shot was deflected away for a corner. I stayed up. The short corner played to the top edge of the box resulted in another blocked shot and another corner. Surely the 20 seconds were up?
I held my ground in the center of the penalty area, about eight yards from the goal. The second corner played out the same way as the first except that the shot rebounded back to my teammate. He shot again, but this time it the low effort made it past the initial defender and toward the far post. As the ball traveled across the middle, I instinctively stuck out my left foot in an attempt to redirect the shot.
By some footballing miracle, the ball deflected off my foot, past the keeper and into the back of the net. The scenario that played out in my head had finally materialized out on the pitch.
It may have been a meaningless co-ed indoor soccer game, but I finally had my goal.
I celebrated with my teammates as if it was the World Cup final, giving chest bumps and high fives as I ran back to my goal.
The opposition had one last shot off the kickoff, and as the tame effort bounced easily into my grasp, I slowly collapsed forward and waited for the imminent blow of the whistle to signal the end of the match.
As I lay there the whistle finally came, and all I could do was exhale as I tried to convince myself that the last 30 seconds weren't a fever dream.
My teammates congratulated me and questioned whether I had actually scored the final goal. They were in as much shock as me. Players from the ensuing match saluted me as I made my way from the bench to the communal area upstairs.
I was still catching my breath as I talked with a few teammates. I mentioned that while getting a draw wasn't great, it was nice to avoid a heartbreaking loss for once.
"What do you mean, we won!" one of my teammates exclaimed. I look at him with a confused expression. "No, we didn't," I told him, "my goal tied it."
We proceeded to summarize the match, and it was then that I realized I failed to account for a goal we scored in the first half. The three second-half goals we conceded did not give them the lead, they only tied the match. It now made sense why the rest of my team had not been pressing forward as emphatically as I was and why they occasionally told me to get back in goal.
Apologetically I told him: "Well I wouldn't have been running around like an idiot if I knew it was tied! I was only doing that because I thought we were losing!"
I laughed as I realized that without the busted scoreboard, my bad math and my teammate's willingness to put up with my absurd antics on the field, this special moment would still only be playing out in my head.
I also asked that in the future they should make sure I know the score before I make an uncalculated foray into the opposition penalty area.
I've always said that the one thing keepers enjoy more than preventing goals is scoring goals, and I still stand by that.
So for all those goalkeepers out there: Don't stop dreaming, because one day your chance will come. Even if you're a little bit misguided.