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Soccer Poet

Just Ugh.

Just Ugh

So this afternoon we finished training with a fitness exercise that involved the players running around the outside of the field. As they turned the corner nearest the Turner Soccer Center they passed a line of 13 college girls in white socks, black shorts and red shirts bearing the ‘Georgia Soccer’ brand. A gaggle of soccer groupies, you ask? Oh no. No, no, no I’m afraid not. That battalion of onlookers is the ever-expanding manifestation of our injured reserve. Thirteen! Thirteen freaking injured players! It’s just absurd. And here’s the kicker - four of them have… wait for it…. shoulder injuries. Huh??? In my 20 years of coaching prior to this one, I honestly can’t recall a single serious shoulder injury to a field player. Somehow we’ve accumulated four of them in 11 days. Bizarre.

We expect nine of our baker’s dozen to return to action in the next few days and weeks. Coming into camp we knew that two of our freshmen, Bella Hartley and Ansley Morgan, would be medical redshirts and miss the entire 2011 campaign. Carly Shultis’ ankle makes her a question mark for this fall. And if you haven’t already read it online, Laura Eddy tore her ACL with two minutes to go in Tuesday night’s training session.

Eddy’s injury was just heartbreaking. She went down with a scream and then the next thing out of her mouth was a prolonged and sorrowful, “Nooooooooooooooo.” When I heard that… well, I didn’t need a doctor to examine her. She wasn’t yelling because of the pain. That was Eddy yelling at the gods because she knew her season was over; the emotional pain trumping the physical one. She just knew. A split second after that awful popping sound Eddy knew all that hard work she had put in over the past eight months just got flushed down the toilet – at least for this year. All of that work, all of those miles, all of those weights and push-ups and pull-ups and box-jumps, all of that commitment, all of those hours - all of that disappointment whittled down to one agonizing two-letter word filling the night sky: No.

The rest of training – the final 120 seconds - was an exercise in going through the motions. Everyone was completely detached from the activity. Sure, bodies chased a ball, but hearts and minds had made an early exit.

Eddy would have to start all over again. It was devastating. And I actually had to remind myself that as impossible as it seemed, somehow it actually hurt her worse than it hurt me. If you don’t know what Eddy’s been through… what Eddy has put herself through… then it might seem like just another women’s soccer another player falling victim to another ACL. But that’s hardly the case.

Here’s the thing about Laura Eddy – she’s the kind of kid you just want to root for. She’s got a gift, a really big one, yet she’s modest and unsatisfied and determined. She’s a warm and wonderful teammate with an easy smile who never has a bad thing to say about anyone or anything. She’s polite and genuine. She’s one of those people who will go through life with no enemies. And oh yeah, she just keeps getting better at soccer. She’s a sponge for coaching. When a coach gives Eddy a correction, it doesn’t take her three days or three games or three weeks to get the hang of it. The change is immediate. The new habit just magically happens and the old habit ceases to be.

Eddy is so determined to be the best player she can be that she doesn’t really work on her weaknesses in so much as she vaporizes them. For example, in April I was recruiting in Florida when I got a text from Eddy that said she wanted to be on the national team. Implied in that message was a request for help in getting her there. So I asked her if she could juggle to 50 on her left foot only. She said she didn’t think so. So I replied, “When you can juggle to 50 on your left foot, I’ll get interested.” Two hours later I got the following text: Done. What’s next?

Honestly, it was more impressive than it was surprising. I’ve been playing this game since… well for a long freaking time and I have never even juggled to 20 solely on my left foot. It took Eddy all of two hours to rise to my challenge and that included the time it took her to drive to the park and put on her boots. But that’s just Eddy’s M.O. - Tell me what I’m not good at so I can go fix it. Then, like a retriever that never tires of playing fetch, Eddy quickly returns, begging to be sent on her way again. When Eddy went away for Christmas break in 2010, long balls were considered ‘in need of improvement.’ So was shooting from distance. When we kicked off our first session of spring training it was obvious that those problems had been summarily squashed. It was like they had never even existed.

Last spring Eddy and I sat down and I identified three areas that I thought were holding her back a bit if she wanted to play for the United States: she was a little too conservative about going forward with her distribution; she wasn’t a great 1v1 attacker; and she was a little too light. So how did she respond?

Well, over the past three months she put on seven pounds of solid muscle and was banging teammates around during preseason. Being light was no longer an issue. And those other two areas? Let’s just say we crossed them off the list, too. Until her knee exploded, Eddy wasn’t just playing on another level – she was playing on a whole other planet! And it was impossible to miss. To see a kid who worked that hard reaping the benefits of that work was inspiring because that’s the way the world is supposed to work. That’s how we’re told it works. That’s how it works in the movies, right? Eddy’s rise is also one of those beautiful subplots that you would never know if you weren’t a part of our team. If you just showed up and watched a game this fall you might have thought, Wow that #14 is really good! But you would never know how hard she worked to get there. You would have no idea how much it meant to her to get that good.

When I went to bed that night Eddy got injured, I stared straight up at the ceiling for what must have been two hours. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. And although I was fully aware of how big of an impact Eddy’s injury could potentially have on our team, that didn’t really concern me. I wasn’t sad that we had lost Eddy the player. But I was devastated for Laura the person. I couldn’t shake the feeling that she deserved much, much better.

So we’ll carry on without Eddy’s services for this campaign. Hopefully her teammates are fast healers because we’re running low on bodies, there’s no vacancy in the training room and our training staff is one misplaced roll of pre-wrap shy of a nervous breakdown. It’ll be a sight for sore eyes when Miller, Locandro, Barker, Shultis, McHugh, Owens, etc. return to the field.

Incidentally, on Friday we drove down to Tallahassee and scrimmaged Florida State. I love that we use our preseason match to face such excellent competition. FSU won 2-0 but more important than the result, we got a really good look at some areas we need to address as the season begins in earnest this Friday night when we travel to Furman.

Incidentally, if you’re one of those irksome people that insist on attackers heaingd the ball back in the direction that the cross came from, you should check out FSU’s first goal – a snap header from the penalty spot. I don’t think too many coaches would try to correct that piece of finishing.

Thanks for reading. Hope to see you at our home opener against Texas!