(a different kind of relationship)

after italy, and back under the warm and tender blanket of my hometown, i first glimpsed the idea that soccer might have an endpoint for me.

at seventeen years old, nearly everyone is simultaneously invincable and miserable.

two seemingly disparate sentiments might seem as if they can’t coexist, until you look back into the conflicts of your teenage years, and realize that you found immeasurable joy in the situations that made you comfortable, and an equal amount of distaste for whatever didn’t fit into your (typically self-absorbed) framework for the world.

a world which, in no way, bears a semblence to the ‘real world’.

soccer, for me, filled up almost all of that little world in that little white suburban environment.

(girls and passive rebelliance topped off the remainder.)

soccer took me to foreign countries.
soccer fueled my hormones, dictated my diet, chose my closest friends.

it gave me an outlet for anger and pain.
it gave me a tightknit group of talented teammates to enter battle with, week in and week out.

it sketched pictures of things that you can’t see: loyalty, trust, teamwork, and respect.

and in so many ways, it was just my thing.

right at that point, after italy, i was officially a member of this nation’s national team, on a short list of the best players in the country. i was captain of my highschool team, which was arguably regarded as the country’s best.

newspapers were following my college decision process.
things were going very well, by all counts.

(i hope most of what i’ve written on this blog prefaces those statements with the necessary humility, because i cringe at self compliment.)

in light of all that, this period of my life was intensely emotional.

i’d never been so conflicted.

the attention and the pressure was suffocating, and as cliched as it seems now…all i wanted was to hang out with my friends. duck away from the decisions and the finality of home ending, and the future beginning.

i fought with my parents. mostly my father.
i pouted about filling out college applications and bitched about every single college visit i was asked to go on.

which turned out to number eighteen, if i remember right.

i’d just been honored with the sport’s highest honors and it’s resulting array of choices turned me into a resentful and nearsighted genuine pain in the ass. i was happy to do anything that didn’t involve college.

when i think back to that period of my life, i see the fortunes i was handed…i see the best kind of problems a kid could have, dining on choices and gobs of opportunity. i almost feel guilty writing about it, and i very much regret the wedge it drove between my father and i, as he nearly begged me to consider stanford and schools on the east coast in the face of the choices closer to home or to my then girlfriend’s chosen destination.

and i remember making my decision almost entirely so the process would be over.

and hoping that i could reverse it if i hated the west coast.
knowing i wouldn’t be able to reneg in reverse..it was stanford now or never stanford.

a romance had been fractured, during that long and painful schoolyear…soccer and i had our first fight, and what had always been a fruitful and bumpless road had ever so slightly been thrown off course, and for the first time in my life i thought our relationship might not last forever. the honeymoon was over, and we’d have to work on our relationship in the times to come.

as i look back today, that experience made my relationship with the beautiful game stronger. we made it to college, where i became ten times the player i ever was before. the game showed me it’s dirty secrets…trusted me with it’s intricacies and taught me how to push it’s buttons.

i flourished on the west coast and thanked my lucky stars i’d arrived where i was almost every day thereafter.

but i never forgot that time, and i kept with me the glimpse i’d had of a little notion, tucked away in the back of my mind…in the back of my heart.

soccer and i weren’t destined to spend our life together.

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