Authors: Sylvia Olsen
I'll make sure he gets to school somehow.”
“Thanks, Uncle Spence,” Jeff says.
The boys sit near the middle of the bus. They don't say anything, but they can hear the other kids talking.
“Albert better show up,” one girl says.
“Yeah, no kidding,” another girl replies. “He's the best player we've got.”
“He's got the best chance at making the team.”
“He'll make it anyway. Even if he doesn't show up. He's that good.”
Murphy doesn't mind hearing what the kids are saying. He knows Albert's the best. At least, Albert has always been the best in the past. What the other kids on the bus don't know is that their soccer hero is at risk of losing a position on the team. He needs to do more than show up to get on the team. He needs to be awesome.
Molly meets the boys in front of the school at recess.
“I saw Albert in the office this morning with his mother,” she says. “They were talking to the principal.”
“No way,” Danny says. “What do you think is going on?”
Just then Albert comes out the front doors.
“You're here,” Jeff hollers. He slaps Albert on the back. “You had us all worried that you'd miss the game at lunch.”
“Of course not,” Albert says and slaps him back. “We're the Formidable Four. Do you think I'd let you down?”
“Never,” Danny says. “There's only one rule:
Give 'er all you've got
“That's right,” Albert replies. “And we're going to do it.”
Murphy is relieved. Albert is here. He sounds excited about the final tryout. At least the words that he says sound excited. But there is something about the way Albert is talking that unsettles Murphy. It might be that since Murphy became a goalie, he's learned to watch the
âthe whole game. He's learned to watch the smallest movements. He's learned to anticipate what a player is going to do before he does it. It's in the way he dips his shoulders, the way he leans left or right. It's the little thingsâthe not-so-obvious movementsâthat Murphy watches for. That's why Murphy makes a good goalie. He doesn't miss a thing.
Right now Jeff and Danny are hearing only what Albert is saying, but they are missing what Murphy can seeâthe unspoken stuff. There's definitely something Albert's not saying, although Murphy can't figure it out. But whatever it is, it threatens to mess up the tryouts, and that makes Murphy nervous.
“Sure good you're here,” Molly says. “We were going to send out a search crew to look for you.”
“Where were you?” Jeff asks.
Albert's face loses its smile. “You don't need to send no spies after me,” he snarls. “It's none of your business where I was. I'm here, aren't I?”
Murphy's confused. An erratic player is the hardest to judge. Murphy can't tell what Albert's going to do next. He seemed excited at first, and then not one minute later, he's angry. Can he really hate Riverside that much?
“I'm at this lousy school, and there's nothing I can do about it,” he grumbles.
“But, hey,” Murphy says, “it's going to be a whole different story once we all get onto the team. Just like we've been planning all summerâthe Formidable Four. The first time Riverside has ever seen anything like it.”
“We are going to do it,” Danny says. “At lunch, suited up, ready to give 'er all we've got.”
Murphy thinks about telling Albert that Uncle Rudy is coming to the tryout, but he decides it will be better to surprise him. The boys high-five each other when the bell rings. Everyone high-fives Molly, except for Albert.
“We are going to do it,” they say to one another.
Jeff punches the air and says, “This is our last chance to show our stuff. We are the tribal-school talent.”
Uncle Rudy's already at the field when the boys arrive at lunch. He's talking to Coach Kennedy.
“Hey, guys,” Uncle Rudy says. “I'm sorry I didn't show up beforeâ¦I wanted to be here, but I've been too busy at work. We've got one more chance, and we've got one rule. What is it?”
“Give 'er all you've got,” they say in unison.
Coach Kennedy calls out the names on the starting lineup. Murphy is on the side. He stands next to Uncle Rudy and says, “Thanks for coming. We all need you, especially Albert.”
Uncle Rudy watches the players. His eyes bounce from Jeff to Danny to Albert. Murphy watches as well. Jeff and Danny are playing like all-stars. If they don't make the team, it will be because the coach is blind. But Albert isn't playing well at allâno better than mediocre. Murphy knows what mediocre means.
Me-di-o-cre: adequate but not very good
Mediocre is one of the words Uncle Rudy uses.
“Listen to the word,” he says. “It sounds like it needs improvement. A mediocre player is the sort of player that gets overlooked. You don't want to be mediocre. It means you're not giving all you've got. It means you've got some bad attitude happening.”
Mediocre is exactly how Albert is playing. He's no better than the other boys on the field. Maybe not even as good as most of them. And if the coach is watching out for attitude, then Albert's in trouble. It's not only Danny, Jeff and Murphy that can see he's got a bad attitude. He shows it on the field.
“You're on, Murphy,” Mr. Paul hollers. “Show your stuff, kid.”
Murphy likes the way Mr. Paul talks to him. He compliments every play he makes. Miss Hansen is really supportive too. Murphy doesn't know what Albert has to complain about.
Murphy turns toward the game just in time to see Albert chest-butt a tall skinny boy. The boy stumbles and then charges at Albert, who then says something Murphy can't hear.
Coach Kennedy blows the whistle and shouts, “Albert!”
Albert walks away from the coach.
“Hey, young man, when I call your name, don't walk away,” Coach Kennedy says. Albert turns around. “Now what did you say to Leroy?”
“Nothing,” Albert shouts and tosses Leroy a nasty look. “I didn't say nothing, okay?”
But the coach must have heard him swear. “You watch your mouth,” Coach Kennedy says and blows the whistle. “I don't want to hear any of those words on my field.”
The game resumes. In a nice smooth play, Albert steals the ball from another player and heads toward Murphy.
Good job, Albert
, Murphy thinks. Like old times.
Albert starts out quickly, but slows down as he nears the net. He's holding his side when he lets the ball go. It's a smart shot. He fakes Murphy out, shoots it to his left side, but it's slow enough that Murphy has plenty of time to grab the ball. His left side is not as slow as it used to be, and Albert's shot is not as fast. But Murphy lets the ball fly right through his fingers.
Albert raises his hands and trots back to center field. No one cheersânot for Albert and not for Murphy.
In a few minutes, Coach Kennedy pulls Albert off the field and subs in another boy. Albert ignores Uncle Rudy and stands near the end of the field. Things are not turning out the way Murphy had wanted.
Something has gone desperately wrong. And he doesn't know what it is or how to fix it.
Coach Kennedy blows the whistle.
“Tryouts are over, boys,” he calls. “You all did well. If I could pick every one of you, I would, but as you can see the numbers are too high. Riverside Strikers is a prestigious team. Not everyone gets to play. If you are in grade seven, don't worry. You can try again next year. But any of you who don't make itâdon't stop trying. Just put your shirt back on and come out again next season.”
Danny, Jeff and Murphy gather around Uncle Rudy. He shakes their hands and says, “Good playing, guys. You are all strong contenders.”
“Butâ¦,” Danny says, looking toward Albert, who's standing by himself.
“I know,” Uncle Rudy says. “I'll talk to him.”
“I'll be meeting with my scouts on the weekend,” Coach Kennedy shouts. “I'll post the team roster after school on Monday on the announcement board next to the office.”
On the weekend, when Murphy first phones Albert, his mom says he's not home. The next time he phones, she says Albert doesn't want to talk to anyone. Murphy phones Jeff and Danny to see if they've talked to Albert.
“Yeah,” Jeff says. “The first couple of times, I couldn't get him. The third time, he came to the phone, but he didn't say much.”
Danny says that when he asked Albert to come over, Albert said he was playing video games and didn't want to go anywhere. “It was like he didn't want to see me. Weird. He's just acting weird.”
“So what do you think is up with Albert?” Murphy asks the other boys when they come to his place on Sunday evening to talk. “What has happened to him?”
“All I can figure is that he hates Riverside,” Danny says. “He wishes he was still at the tribal school.”
“I guess so,” Murphy says. “But he loves soccer, and Riverside will be a lot better when we all get on the team.”
“We're his friends,” Jeff says. “Why won't he talk to us? Why is he mad at us? What have we got to do with Riverside?”
“Yeah,” Danny says. “What's his problem?”
“I sure wish I knew,” Murphy says.
“Well, he's starting to get me mad,” Danny says. “We worked hard for the team. The Formidable Fourâwe had a plan. Now look at him. He thinks that he can just wreck the whole thing.”
“I don't think he wants to wreck it for us,” Jeff says. “Do you, Murph?”
“Yeah, he thinks this is all about him, and it's not,” Danny says. “We all gotta go to Riverside. I'd rather be in the tribal school too. But it's going to be great if we make the team.”
we make the team,” Murphy corrects him.
“Do you really think we'll make it?” Jeff says.
“I'm not as confident as I was before,” Danny says. “Especially after seeing Albert play. I'm freaking out. Maybe we aren't as good as we thought we were.”
“Same with me. I'm thinking just like you,” Jeff says. “We had a big plan, and now it's all gone wrong. Maybe we were just dreaming. Maybe it's all just a big stupid mistake. Maybe none of us has a chance.”
“Yeah, but what about Uncle Rudy? He wouldn't lead us on. He knows soccer, and he'd tell us if he thought we didn't have a chance,” Murphy says.
“Welcome back to school, all you Riversiders,” Principal Clarkson says over the pa on Monday morning. “Especially the soccer contenders. The starting lineup will be posted on the bulletin board by the office this afternoon. You can check out the list after final bell. The lunch monitorsâ¦”
Murphy stops listening once the soccer announcement is over. Albert wasn't on the bus again this morning. And even without worrying about Albert, Murphy has lost his confidence. Getting on the team seems like an impossible task. From what Murphy can tell, Bingo is a darn good goalie, and Coach Kennedy already knows him. Even the small guy, Ahmed, who isn't much smaller than Murphy, is pretty good. That means Murphy has only a one-in-three chance of making the starting lineup. The numbers don't make him feel very good.
Then there's the problem of Albert. All of a sudden, the Formidable Four seems like a really bad idea. Instead of the four boys supporting each other, they are just worrying about what it will be like if they don't all make the team.
“Looks like Albert's not coming,” Jeff says when the boys and Molly meet out in front of the school at lunch.
“Maybe he'll still get here,” Molly says. “He was late on Friday.”
“It's not like him,” Danny says. “His mom never drives him to school. Albert never misses a chance to play soccer. Something's really messed up.”
“Do you want to use my phone to call his mom?” Molly asks Murphy. “Do you think he's forgotten about the selection?”
“Are you kidding?” he says.
Free time at lunch seems like a couple of hours. Time goes so slowly in math and technology classes that it feels like the afternoon will never end. Murphy can't decide whether he's excited or terrified when the after-school bell rings. He leaves the classroom slowly. The list won't be going anywhere. It can wait. He shuffles his feet on the way to his locker. He tidies up some papers and books and tosses a few old apples and bananas into the garbage before he gets his jacket and backpack.
There's a bunch of boys crowding around the bulletin board in the foyer. Jeff and Danny stand off to the side, waiting for a space near the list.
“Hey, Murph,” Jeff says as soon as he appears. “I think your name's on the list. The big goalie stomped out of here like he was going to hit something.”
Murphy swallows hard. He doesn't want to get excited without seeing for himself. He needs to see his name with his own two eyes.
“Did you guys make it?” Molly asks when she arrives. “Tell me, tell me. I can hardly wait.”
“We don't know yet,” Murphy says.
“We can't get close to the list,” Danny says. “These guys need to learn how to read. They haven't moved since we got here.”
Murphy can hear names being called, but he doesn't recognize any of them.
“What are you waiting for?” Molly says. She pushes her way into the crowd until she's standing in front of the list. “Jeffrey Sam, Daniel Waters and Murphy James,” she calls out. “Starting lineup!”
Jeff and Danny high-five. They turn and high-five Murphy. His stomach rumbles like there's a whole set of marbles tumbling around inside.
“Way to go!” Molly screams when she emerges from the huddle. “You're on the team. You guys are great.”
When a few boys move away from the list, Murphy inches his way through the crowd to the front. His eyes zoom over the names until he sees
printed in black and white. He puts his face closer to the list. Plain as day, right there in front of him, no mistakes, it says:
Murphy James, Starting Keeper.
He looks away from the list and then checks it again:
Murphy James, Starting Keeper.
Again he looks:
Murphy James, Starting Keeper.
His eyes are not playing tricks on him. There's no doubt about it. He's on the team.