May 30, 2018: I am not a good loser.
I am not a bad loser, per se. I will shake your hand and tell you good game, and walk off the field. But on the inside, let me assure you – I. Am. Dying.
I know it’s part of the game. I know you can’t always win. I know that defeat makes victory taste sweeter. But I don’t care – I want to win.
So, suffice it to say, the beginning of our season has been a little bit challenging for me mentally. We came out and won our first game 6-0. That was great. It was fun. A little boring, defensively, but no complaints here. The second game was also okay. We played who I consider to have been the best team in the league so far and tied 2-2. We would have won that game, truly, but a last minute (literally) injury prevented that, but I felt like at least the result was reflective of who we were as a team.
But after that game, ooopfh. It has been tough going. Our third match was against a team called Lidköpings FK. They had seven Americans, and now that I have been an American playing in Sweden, I know what we bring to the table: a kick-ass, never quitting, game-winning mentality. Maybe a bit of an edge, and definitely something that isn’t “fun” to play against. Technically we were much stronger than they were – in fact, it wasn’t even close - but we lost the physical game and had so many breakdowns in the second half that we ended up losing 3-1. I consider our defense one of our stronger points on the field, and we just shut down. We didn’t win the 50/50 balls, we didn’t get stuck into the tackles, and we looked downright afraid of them. Admittedly, after that game, I was fuming. But, a loss is a loss, and you have to put your head up and move on. So move on we did.
The next game against Ljusdal should have been an easy win, but I am learning that I need to stop using the word “should,” because anything can happen. And there are no easy games in Elitettan. We played in an indoor bubble – literally – on the nicest day of the year. We got one goal on a PK in the first half, and other than that we created very few good opportunities. Late into the second half, the referee awarded them with a PK (it seemed like she wanted to make it even), so the game resulted in a 1-1 draw. These are the games you need to win. They are the games that come and haunt you at the end of the season. Again, yours truly was not too happy after that.
The next game was against AIK, which many would consider a local rival. They are from Stockholm, just a few minutes down the road, and four Uppsala players went to play there this season, so it was a bit of a local derby. I believe we truly had the upper hand of the match most of the game. It was even, but it seemed like we had more opportunities than they did. Unfortunately, our opportunities didn’t turn into anything and again, in the 80-somethingth minute, we scored an own goal. As the time slowly ticked on, we finally picked up the intensity, but it was too late, and 1-0 it ended. Remember when I said I was fuming before? Well, this time, I was crushed.
Even still, I was really looking forward to our game against Sundsvall. A friend and former teammate Sarah plays there, and we knew it would be a close game. A close game it was. The first half, we definitely controlled the game. We were beating their outsides and playing our game. They had two really aggressive (relentless) forwards too, so it was fun to battle with them up top. Something in the second half changed. I don’t know if it was them or if it was us, but the momentum shifted. Suddenly, we were on our heels much more than we were attacking, and unfortunately, as one might guess based on the theme of this entry, at 75-or-so minutes, Sundsvall crossed it into one of their forwards, who headed it into the back of the net. There was no shift in our game when we were down 1-0. There was no desperation to get an equalizer. It was as if we just accepted the fate. Remember before when I said I was fuming? How about when I said I was crushed? Well this was the worst of them all – I felt acceptance.
After the game, I met up with Sarah - now my arch nemesis – and we talked about everything. We talked about the league, about playing in Sweden, about soccer in general. I sort of mourned. I sort of laughed. I definitely was feeling sorry for myself. Sarah said something to me that I of course knew, but hadn’t really been vocalized. We (Americans) are here because of our attitude. We cannot be the ones feeling sorry for ourselves. We cannot be the ones who are making excuses for our play. We cannot be the ones who sit out at practice. We are here to help lift the team up when things seem like they aren’t going our way. We are here to be the light – not the darkness.
And when no one else believes, we HAVE to believe. And so I do.
I realized then that these losses wouldn’t be so painful if we didn’t deserve better. If we were just a bad team, it would be easier to accept our fate. If we were a group of players without talent, we could happily nestle ourselves into the bottom third of the table. If we truly didn’t believe that we had a chance of winning our league, we could just coast through the season. But that isn’t the case. I know what we are capable of.
We had a team meeting the day after our game against Sundsvall, and it was cathartic. [To my Swedish people, here is the definition of cathartic: ‘providing psychological relief through the open expression of strong emotions’ – aka, doing something that allows you rid yourself of the anger and angst or anything other negative feelings you have stored up inside.] We got honest with each other. We were honest with our coaches. Our play wasn’t good enough, and it wasn’t what we wanted to be as a team. We showed ownership. We wanted to be accountable. In short, we wanted to win.
Last Thursday, we met Vasterås, on a teeny-tiny, horribly bouncy, hard surface. We knew they would be physical. We knew a lot of the play would be in the air. We knew it wouldn’t be pretty. For the first time in five games, I felt so proud of everyone on the field. We played with the emotion that we had been missing in the previous matches. You could sense urgency. You could sense that we were willing to fight. There was no doubt in my mind: we were going to win this game. And we did. We broke the scoreless spell. After our first goal, the ENTIRE team erupted. Swedish people are very steady – not very low, not very high – but no one could help celebrating that goal. And the next one. The curse had been broken – we finally won.
Over the weekend, the entire Elitettan table was shaken up. Top teams were upset. Lesser teams moved up. Games with certain expected outcomes didn’t pan out the way we thought they would. And that is the game. And that is why you cannot give up. Because when you start to rest on your laurels, someone will sneak up on you. It’s hard to be at the top – everyone wants to knock you down. So we’ve done something a bit backward; we’ve led everyone to believe that this is not the year for IK Uppsala. But let me tell you… we plan to surprise you all.
Peace, love and football.