‘Enduring Spirit’ excerpt: Charades

The book Enduring Spirit: Reviving Professional Women’s Soccer should be available Oct. 15, barring any last-minute editing questions or complications with converting my draft to e-book format. By popular demand, I’ll make sure it’s available somewhere other than Amazon, though it’ll go to Amazon first.

Over the next week, I’ll release a couple of excerpts. Here’s one.

Friday, July 5

The bus wasn’t evil this time. A couple of players used the overhead sleeping compartments — Diana Matheson had trouble climbing up but had plenty of room to stretch out. Conny Pohlers was eager to watch Wimbledon on the satellite TV, but with Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro’s match stretching for nearly five hours, the team tossed in a few episodes of Modern Family.

This was the one road trip of the season in which I would stick with the team the whole time. With Lori Lindsey’s encouragement, I said hello to the team when we got on the bus and reminded them what I was doing. Most players tuned out, but Chantel Jones was quick with a couple of questions. I told her Colleen Williams had suggested a title.

“What was that?”

Sexy Soccer,” I said.

Sexy FOOTBALL,” Ashlyn Harris admonished, clearly preferring global terminology over Americanized alliteration.

Mark Parsons was staying busy. He and Lloyd Yaxley worked their way through some videos on the bus. His scouting gave him confidence that he imparted on the team at a brief practice on the sweltering field on the fringe of New Jersey suburbia. “I could not feel better about how this is set up,” Parsons said in a practice that emphasized the positive.

Harris may have grown up in Florida, but she was no fan of the 90-degree heat and high humidity. “It’s so hot,” she moaned to Ali Krieger in the hotel lobby before practice. “I already feel sick.”

She also wasn’t a fan of the artificial turf on which the Spirit was training in the midst of a complex, like the SoccerPlex, that had several grass fields. “My feet are burning,” she muttered as she trudged off to work with Yaxley and Chantel Jones.

But the grass was long and apparently off-limits. And Parsons thought the turf, much more forgiving than the Dilboy Stadium carpet, was pretty good for the technical training they were doing. They were working on turning before the pass arrived so they’re in better position to play the ball. Not trapping THEN turning. He said they’ll clean it up over a couple of weeks.

And Harris got into the swing of things when the teams played a modified scrimmage at the end of practice. She loved seeing a chip from Diana Matheson and kept encouraging her teammates.

Pohlers raced back to the bus after practice, trying to catch the rest of the Wimbledon men’s semifinal. But Andy Murray had already won the fourth set and the match.

The team dinner drew unanimous approval. A modest-looking Italian place served superb salmon, chicken and pasta to a happy team.

Most of the players and coaches had asked very little about how I reached the point in my career at which I thought following a soccer team around would be a good idea. Parsons was an exception, asking me tons of questions about my soccer background and my career. I was happy to talk, but then I was the last person with food on my plate. Conny Pohlers, clearly ready to get back to the hotel, started teasing me about never finishing my dinner. I gulped down my food, and we left.

That evening, Parsons held a meeting free from any talk of tactics or technique. It was team bonding time.

First up was an exercise of finding words that best described the team and its goals. It looked like a corporate exercise usually imposed on baffled or jaded employees, but the team was into it. Holly King offered “resilient,” which several people misheard as “Brazilian.”

Harris, always in intense in games and focused in practice, showed a softer side. She considered the team a family and gave an emotional speech about how important that sentiment was.

And Harris’ words inspired a new team catchphrase: “Family! Together! We will fight!”

Then Harris got back to her competitive instincts in a raucous game of charades, with Parsons providing movie titles to act out. The goalkeeper was up first and may have bent the rules, grabbing a prop to use as an eye patch. Her team immediately got it: “Pirates of the Caribbean!”

Ali Krieger had a tougher task. She let her hair down and pranced around like a beauty pageant contender. Her team didn’t get it. Two other teams yelled out for the steal: “Pretty Woman!”

Colleen Williams and Jasmyne Spencer connected easily. Williams mimicked a free kick. Spencer: “Bend It Like Beckham!”

Parsons raised the ante with a speed round, in which each team would do as many movies as possible in a limited time, and the veterans heated up. The normally reserved Candace Chapman used much of the available floor space for some animated acting, and Kika Toulouse quickly got three of Chapman’s assigned films. Lori Lindsey let loose a “BOOM, BABY!” after getting Snow White from Chantel Jones’ clues. Diana Matheson got her team into the final with a convincing portrayal of the Titanic sinking.

Pohlers was eager to participate, making up her own titles in between rounds. But when the time came for her to go, she stuck with typing and drawing a computer with her hands. The film was The Notebook. She was unaware of the English word “notebook” when not followed by “computer.”

The final teams:

– Lori Lindsey, Tori Huster, Holly King, Lindsay Taylor, Chantel Jones

– Diana Matheson, Colleen Williams, Jasmyne Spencer, Lupita Worbis.

Parsons made it winner-take-all. Whoever guessed first would win the title for her team.

Krieger and Harris volunteered to be the actors. Each veteran drew hearts in the air, then turned as if beginning a swordfight.

Chantel Jones shouted the winning word.

BRAVEHEART!”

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