“I prefer to win titles with the team ahead of individual awards or scoring more goals than anyone else. I'm more worried about being a good person than being the best football player in the world. When all this is over, what are you left with? When I retire, I hope I am remembered for being a decent guy.” -Lionel Messi, 5 Time FIFA World Player of the Year
While there's still some debate as to which football giant is the greatest player of all time, there's little doubt that Lionel Messi is one of the most influential and dominating players the game has ever seen. His ball control is remarkable, his skills unrivaled, his play a remarkable balance of intelligence and athleticism. He is a force on the pitch, and he nearly willed Argentina to the World Cup title single-handedly in 2014. Only a ear-perfect German team could stop him. Yet Messi knows that, at the end of everything, his legacy will not be in trophies, goals, or accolades.
If there's one thing Liga HEB will never lack, it's passion. The young men who gather on the fields behind Central Junior High every Wednesday from January into March don't do it to pass the time. They aren't there because they're bored or looking to make friends or impress anyone. They come because they love the game. It's more to them than a match or a season; it's a way of life. So losing isn't just a setback: it's a painful failure to live up to their own standards. That kind of competitive spirit is good up to a point, but it can be dangerous without the kind of perspective that Messi offers us: a person's worth isn't determined by what they can do in 90 minutes. They're worth what they give to the world.
“It's more than a game to me.”
“It's more than a game to me.”
Watching Coach Martinez console one of his most skilled opponents, that message couldn't have been more clear. His club, Atlético FC, had just wrapped up a tight win and secured the top spot in the regular season standings. The first thing he did after the match was take hold of Hurst's standout striker, who was overcome with emotion at losing the finale, and remind him that the day's match was just a game.
“It's more than a game to me,” the despondent forward replied. Martinez simply reminded him that there would be more; next week's Champions Cup Match being the first.
There's nothing inherently wrong with losing. Sure, it's not nearly as fun as the alternative, but it isn't the destructive event we often make it out to be. It hurts, but it hurts in the same way that our body aches when we've exercised. Gaining strength will always be painful, but that pain can be an asset. If anything, the way we lose defines us more than the way we win: the greatest of us have both passion and control in all circumstances. In less than a week, the next part of each players' legacy will be cemented. Some will be champions. Some will be runners-up. But all of them will be able to prove that they are men of integrity. In that way — the most important way — they can be just like Lionel Messi.
A quick look at the action that brought us here…
Stallions Blanked On The Season After 5-3 Loss to Real Euless
by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones
In a game that meant almost nothing, Real Euless came away from the fields behind Central Junior High with more cause for celebration than anyone else. By locking down their in-school rivals to sweep the season series, they assured themselves of their place in the league at the end of a tumultuous year. They finish with only 6 points, but two wins ahead of Stallions FC and a mere 4 points outside of fourth place in a six team league.
The conundrum that is Stallions will carry over into the offseason, with the Euless side that performs better historically against other schools somehow struggling to notch a win against a club that tends to surrender massive score lines. Whatever is plaguing this team, it isn't a lack of talent. They've notched goals against every team but top-finishing Atlético and buckled down on defense every week until this one; giving up, in order: 9 goals, 7 goals, 6 goals, 5 goals, 3 goals, and then 5 in the finale. They're trending mostly in the right direction, and having an offseason to gel under new coach Gary Dobbs should make them a force next year.
Real, on the other hand, is a wholly different kind of mystery. They seemed unfazed by anything Stallions had to offer, pressuring up top for much of the match and picking up mostly tidy goals at close range. Yet, in other contests, they've allowed so many opportunities that they will finish dead last in Goal Differential for the year. It's almost as if both Euless clubs simply lack the confidence to play with sides from other schools. That's something that needs to change before the 2017 season.
Raiders FC Take Honorary Third Place With 5-2 Win Over Spartans
by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones
Having nearly dropped a 2-2 draw against Spartans FC earlier in the year, Raiders FC came into the league's unofficial third place match with something to prove. They played with a ferocity that knocked any and all chips off their shoulders, securing a lopsided victory against a demoralized rival. This may be the last time these teams clash for the year, but it certainly wasn't the last word in the conversation.
Spartans carried only 11 men into the match, their roster decimated by the same academic and attendance problems that have hampered Central for the last few weeks. Their only reserve player had to be loaned temporarily to Atlético to make full teams on each side, underscoring the need for a standardized roster and recruitment plan this offseason. Normally the aggressors in matches like this one, Spartans were bullied from start to finish, falling behind 3-1 in the first half and mustering very little resistance for the second.
Surprisingly, it was Raiders who pushed the envelope for the duration of the game. Usually a composed and strategic club, the boys in red played a chippy 60 minutes fraught with intentional fouls. At times, the default setting for midfielders and defenders beaten on the dribble seemed to be to grab hold of their marks: a disappointing development for a squad that, until now, had been one of the classiest acts on the pitch. Their offseason strategy may need to include some psychological and emotional reconditioning.
Atlético Central Survives FC Hurst's Rally, 3-2
by Steven A Jones, with José Cortes, Central JH
A low-stakes preview of the Champions Cup Match, the regular season conclusion for Atlético and FC Hurst lived up to its hype. Both sides run their offense through a key talent with remarkable ball skills and range, but Central tends to edge Hurst on the strength of its full roster and clinical passing. This match was no exception, though it proved to be an even more explosive encounter than the first meeting between the teams in Week 4, which Atlético won 3-nil.
For FC Hurst, a pair of goals against the league-leaders in Goal Differential is a positive sign heading into the championship game. Previously unable to crack a tough Atlético defense, Hurst seemed the perennial underdog in this matchup until the last week of the regular season. It would have been nice to walk away with a win, but a close loss after a few miscues is reason for optimism. The secret to success next week will be controlling the midfield — something Hurst has failed to do in both match-ups thus far — and shutting down the early aggression of their foe's top striker. As always, falling behind Central early proved to be an insurmountable mistake.
It was that same dominant forward who made the difference for Atlético, with his hat trick accounting for the club's win. Few teams have found a way to shut down the Central star, who is both deceptively speedy and physically imposing. Fed as he is by a high-pressuring, fast-breaking midfield, the team's top scorer has dominated in almost every game this season. Owing largely to Hurst's inability to establish ball control, Central's top club was able, once again, to nab an early lead and weather the storm that followed.
Given the clubs' joint history, it's highly likely that whoever scores first next week will hoist the Champions Cup. The Final will be played at 5:00pm at Pennington Field in Bedford, with admission open to the public at no cost.