Dark, wind-driven Sault September autumn skies, even when the calendar still says Summer. Uncertain game day weather – a perfect backdrop, as the Algoma Thunderbird soccer women kicked off a two-game weekend series against visiting Waterloo. For a team that had never known an OUA league victory until their triumph at Windsor six days earlier, ‘coming off a win’ emotions were a new Thunderbirds experience. Uncertainty was the order of the day.
Uncertainty also means wondering what the immediate future might hold for yourself, and your team. The perpetual questions must be answered – Am I ready? Am I good enough right now? Will I fail? Every athlete worthy of the name thinks these thoughts … every time out.
Coaches never really trust anyone who is not just a touch nervous before a kickoff, tip off, or the starter’s gun. It is the finest and most difficult of all competitive sport balancing acts. Too hot wired, and players will struggle to maintain composure, and focus. Too calm and casual, and they will invariably lack the edge, jump, and creative spark separating playmakers from mere players.
The 2-0 Waterloo win on Saturday confirmed two points. The Warriors are a solid side, with a back line that delivers sound defensive work, while keeping a keen eye out for counterattack opportunities. But the Thunderbirds carried the play after halftime, and they were full measure … not a team just hanging on, hoping against hope to leave the field without being embarrassed. The Algoma women made skilled plays, where clever back heels, wide passes, and several nice overlapping runs led to scoring chances that were legit, if unsuccessful.
The Sunday weather was glorious, but the second game was essentially a replay of the day before. An early 2-0 Waterloo lead reinforced how momentary defensive breakdowns can prove fatal. The Thunderbirds pressed the issue before half, and their persistence was rewarded … a terrific forward turn in the Warriors box to draw a penalty, and the sweetly struck conversion made it 2-1, with Thunderbird ambitions boosted in the bargain. Second half play was marked by repeated Algoma attacks, using pace and finding space – but they came up empty. A Waterloo crew with a little more counter-attacking speed on the flanks took advantage. An Algoma penalty that raised the eternal, maddening soccer question, ‘hand to ball, or ball to hand?’ … and things ended 4-1.
Hard fought, close, could have gone another way? No doubt … in 180 minutes of weekend play, six Waterloo goals resulted from about 60 seconds of Thunderbirds uncertainty in their own end. One might assume, looking at this weekend’s body of work, that if this Algoma team is on the rise, these freshman errors will fall by the second year wayside. Intriguing to think about …
In 2014, Toronto Raptors’ first round draft pick Bruno Caboclo was famously dismissed as being ‘2 years away from being 2 years away’. A cruel comment, but the NBA millions that Bruno has earned since probably eased the pain. The 2019 Thunderbirds play thus far is indicative of a team a year or two away. An undoubted work in progress, but progress remains the operative word.