“Whoa, dude, hold up,” I called out to a guy who had just jumped into our pick-up soccer game at Penn Park. We had a perfect seven-on-seven game going on, and an odd addition would end up ruining our meaningless pick-up game. I approached this intruder with my chest puffed out and limping with shin splints.
“You wanna play, right?” I asked him. He was six feet two, six feet three, African, and lean but chiseled. The thin fabric of his shirt showed off his muscular pecs and abs beneath it, which were a stark contrast to my boobs. I looked down at his calves. He played soccer.
He nodded, and I responded, “Well, we have an even game going on right now. It’s an even seven on seven, see? So, if you could find one more player to play with you, I can let you play. Otherwise, I can’t. Sorry.”
He cocked his head to the side.
“You need one more guy. One more. Otherwise, sorry man, we’ve got too good of a game going on.”
Hearing this, my lanky teammate Alex came up behind me and pointed out, “Who gives a shit? Let him join.”
So our visitor joined the other team, and we resumed play. The guy took up the central midfield position, where he moved around the field with ease and in long strides. His moves were effortless, and I could see he was putting in zero effort. This pissed me off. I charged at him the next time he had the ball. He feinted left, and I bit. He then went right, took a couple of steps, and crossed the ball.
“I saw that,” my buddy Mark shouted from behind me. I flipped him off.
I couldn’t figure the guy out. He didn’t want the ball. It seemed like he could care less whether or not he had the ball, which isn’t typical of players that were that good. He wasn’t there to compete, but you could just see the guy’s talent in the things he did without trying. Once, I managed to find an opening, did a one-two with one of my teammates, and was about to rip one into the net. The mystery man in his blue shirt and yellow Nike cleats blocked my shot.
Mark was shouting from across the field again. “Hey Hans, did I ever tell you your ex used to always complain to me about how you could never finish?”
I jogged back to where Mark was standing. “Who the hell is this guy?”
“I don’t know. He hasn’t said a single thing. But he was totally abusing you out there.”
“No shit. If I was a little boy I’d call him the black Jerry Sandusky.”
Mark liked my off-color humor, and I liked his companionship ever since we were hall-mates freshman year. I’ve asked him how we came to be friends, to which he had replied, “Not sure. Top-five worst decision at college.”
Mark knew more about me than I did about him because he was the quiet, calm mechanical engineering major and I was the obnoxious, loud-mouthed philosophy major. Last year he came back from work in the evening to find me drunk, singing breakup songs by Maroon 5, and running over hookers on “Grand Theft Auto” in our living room.
“What happened?” He asked.
He walked over to where I was sitting, put a hand on my shoulder and then walked away. He came back with a can of PBR in his hand and sat down on the couch to watch me play.
“I really shouldn’t have let that guy join our game,” I told Mark, as we watched from a distance the newcomer pass away the ball again.
“Can’t you see, dude? He’s so polite and courteous, he realizes he shouldn’t even use one percent of his actual skills so that our game wouldn’t be affected by him joining.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Come—“ The ball rolled into our vicinity, so I kicked it as far as I could back to the other side of the field.
“C’mon,” I resumed, “I don’t come out here to get creamed by some super talented dude who isn’t trying. I come out here to feel good about playing with other nonathletic, slow, pasty, lousy, garbage, out of shape Penn students. Our guy over there isn’t just popping my precious Penn bubble, but he’s doing it with class. That’s messed up. If he’s going to do that, it’s only right that he doesn’t do it in such a likable way.”
The game continued for another hour. There was more shouting and running and limping and kicking. We were all exhausted at the end, except for the mystery man. He was juggling the ball with his feet and walking towards a goal. My friend Hassan approached him and talked to him for several minutes. Meanwhile, the other players and I sat on the bench, tired and pulling off our cleats. I was shirtless and covered in sweat. The September breeze gave me a chill.
Hassan came over to where we were sitting. “So it turns out, that dude plays for the Philadelphia Union.”
“He was good.”
“Yeah, but it’s the Union, so he’s basically a scrub,” said Hassan.
Someone pointed out, “Wait, Hans, didn’t you tell the guy he couldn’t join our game at the beginning?”
“I know. And if I had known he was such a scrub, I definitely wouldn’t have let him play.”
The jokes continued, and in the background the recently identified Yann Ekra nailed shots from twenty-four yards out.