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Authors: Matt Christopher,The #1 Sports Writer For Kids

Tags: #JUV028000, #General Fiction

Soccer Scoop (3 page)

BOOK: Soccer Scoop
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“Here they come! Here they come! Sweeper to the left! Move it, Billy! Get the lead out!” he shouted, all the while moving from one strategic position to another. Even when the ball was at the opposite end of the field, he called out to his teammates.

“Lets see your stuff there, Dougie! Heads up, Jackie!”

Noticing that Sam Napoli, a young Cougar midfielder, kept moving back and forth across the midfield stripe, Mac crooned out, “Seesaw Sammy! Keep on swinging!” The fans rewarded that call with a ripple of laughter. Mac grinned, but turned serious again when he caught Billy Levine giving him a disgusted look.

What’s his problem? Mac thought.

When the two teams trotted off the field at the halfway mark, the Scoreboard still read, 1-0 in favor of the Bruins.

“You’re doing everything right,” said the coach. “Except you’re not always taking advantage of your chances. They’re outshooting you at goal almost two to one. Don’t be intimidated by their reputation. Get tough. Don’t get sloppy, though, just fierce!”

Mac gritted his teeth so hard, he was afraid they might break in half. When the whistle blew for the second half, he got into position, determined to defend his turf.

After the kickoff, the Cougars took possession of the ball. They held it down in Bruins territory for one goal attempt after another. For a while, it looked as though the whole second half would he played down there.

That didn’t stop Mac from keeping up his motion and his mouth work. He danced back and forth as he followed the play from afar. He wasn’t surprised when the game turned around after the sixth unsuccessful goal attempt by the Cougars and the ball came zooming across the center line in his direction.

“C’mon, you Cougars, defense! Show ‘em we’re fierce animals, not pussycats!”

Mac glanced toward the stands as a ripple of laughter came from the fans. But a moment later that laughter turned to a gasp. Mac snapped his gaze back to the field, but he was too late. A Bruin had come out of nowhere, picked up a pass, and swiftly put the ball into the net before Mac knew what was happening.

The score now read, Bruins 2, Cougars 0.

“Looks like you’re a pussycat after all, Cougar!” a Bruin wing called to Mac with a laugh.

Mac felt two feet tall. He knew he’d blown it, even though his attention had left the game for no more than a split second.

The Cougars were silent as they assembled for the kickoff. When the game resumed, Mac tried hard to get them back into the swing of it.

“Coverage, Billy, coverage!” he called to fill the void between him and the Bruins’ wing who was threatening on one side.

“Get in there, Marv,” he shouted, watching his Cougar teammate trying to wrestle the ball away from another opponent. “Dig in!”

Marv dug in a little too boldly, and the whistle blew, giving the Bruins a penalty shot.

Penalty shots were the most dreaded moments of Mac’s day. He had one of the best records in the league for blocking such attempts, but the odds were still with the kicker.

The Bruins’ right wing was all set to take the shot. Mac had been watching him throughout the game, and he thought he had detected a little weakness—a habit of trying for one particular corner of the net. If that held true, that’s where he would try to put it now.

With that in mind, Mac got into position. Feet planted firmly on the ground, he glared at the kicker. Then when the Bruin began to run up for the kick, Mac shifted toward the “wrong” side of the net with his upper body—only to shift back at the last minute and dive in the opposite direction once the ball left the ground. His outstretched fingertips just managed to connect with the ball and deflect it from going into the net.

The crowd went wild.

But there was no time for celebration. With the clock running down, the Cougars still hadn’t gotten onto the Scoreboard. They needed three quick goals to win this game.

It looked as though they might chalk up a goal as Dougie called for one of their surefire plays—a sweep around the midfielders followed by a quick charge right down the middle.

But a pass intended for Jackie got deflected off the heel of a Bruin defenseman. One of the Bruins’ teammates was exactly in the right position and raced with the ball toward the Cougars’ goal.

Billy tried to break the play, but with no luck. Mac was on his own.

He managed to block the first shot at the net but couldn’t really get a grip on the ball. It bounced forward about ten feet, where it landed in front of a solitary Bruin forward. A second shot had no trouble going into the net.

The Bruins’ fans cheered loudly, sure of a victory. With only thirty seconds left to play, there was no way the Cougars could win it now. They did their best, but in the end, the Scoreboard read, Bruins 3, Cougars 0. It was their worst showing of the season.

Coach Robertson spoke quietly to them in the locker room. “Now we know what it’s like to lose a tough one. So we learn from our experience. The season is still young, and there are a lot more games to play—and to win. Don’t be too tough on yourselves. Just get some rest over the weekend, and I’ll see you at practice on Monday.”

7

O
ver the weekend, Mac got together with Jimmy and Dougie to watch some movies at Jimmy’s house. As the opening credits rolled by for the first video, Jimmy nudged Mac.

“Hey, I almost forgot to ask you guys if you’re going to the dance the paper s hosting next week. I’m selling tickets.”

Signs about the dance had been posted in the school hallways for the past week. It was going to be a casual affair, with a disc jockey and refreshments.

Dougie and Mac looked at each other. “A dance?” Dougie said. “I dunno. The last one I went to was a bust. All I did was stand at the edge of the gym and listen to music. I can listen to music at home for free.”

“Hey, if you didn’t have a good time, it was your own fault. You were too scared to ask Ann Leonard to dance with you,” Mac said with a grin.

Dougie colored. “Yeah, well, I didn’t see you out there too much, either. What’s the matter, afraid whoever you’d ask would say no?”

With a twinkle in his eye, Jimmy said, “I know someone who would definitely say yes if you asked her, Mac.”

Mac paused the video. “Oh, yeah? Who? Not that I’m interested, really.”

“Let’s just say that my kid sister has been asking an awful lot about soccer lately.”

It was Mac’s turn to blush, but secretly he was pleased. He wouldn’t ever tell anyone, but he thought Jimmy’s sister was kind of cute. “Deanna’s not a kid,” Mac said. “She’s only a year younger than we are.”

Jimmy and Dougie laughed. “The knight in shining armor defends his lady fair!” Dougie chortled.

“Cut it out! I am not! It’s just that you made her sound like she was still in elementary school.”

Jimmy, still grinning, said, “Well, you have my permission to ask her to boogie down with you if you want.”

“Yeah, right,” mumbled Mac as he clicked the movie back on. But somehow he couldn’t concentrate on it anymore.

When it was over, he put on his most casual voice. “Jimmy, I guess if you’re trying to unload those dance tickets, I’ll take one.

Dougie and Jimmy cracked up. But Mac noticed that Dougie left with a ticket as well.

The following Monday, the
Chronicle
appeared with a new cartoon in the center. This time it was a drawing of a little cat in the middle of the goal. The cat was sound asleep, and a soccer ball was flying over its head. The caption underneath read,
Pussycat’s catnap causes Cougars to lose!

Mac saw red. He was tempted to find Margie Lewis and insist that she tell him who submitted it to the paper. Instead, he marched into the administration office and asked to speak to Dr. Witherspoon, the principal.

After a brief wait, he was ushered in.

“What can I do for you, Alfred?” asked the principal. A slender man with an outsized nose, he was probably the only person left in the whole world who used Mac’s real first name.

“Well, sir,” Mac said, “I don’t know if you’ve seen the
Chronicle
, but this is the second time it’s had a cartoon that makes fun of me. I don’t know who’s doing it, but I don’t think its really very nice. I want it stopped.”

“Hmm, I see your point,” said Dr. Witherspoon, looking at the page Mac held in front of him. “But I’m not sure that there’s much I can do. You see, even though it’s a school paper, it’s protected by the Bill of Rights. You have studied that in your U.S. history class, haven’t you?”

“Yes, sir, but —”

“Well, freedom of the press is one of our foremost rights,” the principal went on. “Unless it’s a case of libel, which I don’t really see this as, the reporter or the artist does have a right to make his or her statement as he or she sees fit.”

Mac’s head was beginning to spin. “So anybody can say anything or draw somebody and make them look dumb and there’s nothing you can do about it?”

“No,” said the principal. “You may certainly respond to them in a letter to the editor. Or write an article yourself that points out where they’re wrong.”

“Oh, sure, so it’ll make me look like I’m a bad sport or something,” said Mac.

“Frankly, I don’t think that it’s as terrible as you do,” said Dr. Witherspoon. “Remember how the paper made fun of me when I first came here?”

He patted his nose, and Mac suddenly recalled the drawing of him as Pinocchio that the paper had printed.

“You’re right, sir,” he admitted, smiling. “I guess we all have to take our knocks.”

“Good, I’m glad you can see that,” said the principal. “Ignore it. Or if you can’t ignore it, make a game of trying to figure out who came up with the cartoon in the first place. I bet if you think hard enough, you’ll come up with the culprit.”

Mac left the principal’s office mulling that last idea over.

He’s right. I should be able to unveil the cartoonist, he thought. I just have to examine the clues. And the first clue is that the cartoons were both about something that happened at a Cougars soccer game!

But by the time he’d reached the locker room for practice, he’d come to the conclusion that anybody—fans, teammates, even coaches—who had been at the last two soccer games could have drawn the cartoons. He was no closer to figuring it out than he’d been before.

Meanwhile, he had to face the ribbing of his teammates.

“Here, kitty, kitty, kitty,” called Jackie as Mac trotted onto the field.

“I’ll give you some nice catnip if you promise to stay awake today,” Mickey added with a laugh.

“Maybe we should play with a ball of yarn instead of a soccer ball,” Billy joked. “Then Mac would be sure to pounce!”

The whole team was practically doubled over with laughter. But the shrill sound of the coach’s whistle put a quick end to it.

“Okay, let’s start out by taking a few laps around the field to warm up. Maybe that will settle you down a little bit,” the coach said.

The laps over, the coach ran a few drills, then split them into scrimmage squads and got down to the business of sharpening up their play.

As usual, Mac played the entire scrimmage in the goalie position for his squad. But unlike usual, his mind was only partially on the play. The rest of it was turning over the cartoon in his mind.

I have to narrow down the suspects, he thought. Its got to be someone who wants me to look like a fool. He turned that idea over in his mind a bit more. Someone on an opposite team, maybe?

He tossed that idea out as soon as he thought of it. The Cougars had played two different teams, so there was no way the cartoonist could have been there both times if he was from a rival squad. Plus, he was pretty sure the
Chronicle
only published material created by kids in their school.

Scratch that, he said to himself.

As the action continued down at the opposite end of the field, he had a new thought. What if it was someone on his own team?

He didn’t have time to consider this thought for long. The sound of running feet alerted him that his squad had lost the ball to their opponents. The action was now at Macs end of the field.

It was late in the day, and he could see that the play was getting sloppy. Passes skyrocketed off to places where there were no possible receivers. Players tripped over their own legs trying to wrestle the ball from an opponent. And too many shots were taken at the goal that didn’t stand a chance of even getting near it.

Still, there was enough activity to keep Mac on his feet. He picked off several balls that came into his area and helped set up his squad time and time again.

After Mac snagged three shots in a row, it finally looked like the drift was to the opposite side of the field.

Mac took a few deep breaths and even leaned one arm on the side of the goal. He fanned his forehead with his other hand before shaking it off and moving to the center where he had a better view of the action.

A roar of victory came from across the field. Sammy had put one into the net. It was a score for his squad, the only one during the scrimmage.

Mac couldn’t help grinning as he watched his teammates slap each other high fives and hurry back into position.

There’s no way the cartoonist is one of those guys, he thought. We’re too tight a team for stuff like that. Besides, what would there be to gain by making fun of me?

“What, no victory cry?” came a voice at his elbow. It was Billy Levine. “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”

Mac’s good mood vanished in an instant as he listened to Billys laughter.

Then again, he thought, maybe we’re not so tight after all.

8

F
or the next two days, Mac felt as though he were walking on eggshells. Even though he tried to put the
Chronicle
drawing out of his mind, he found himself eyeing everyone on the team suspiciously.

At the same time, he started being careful of what he said. He didn’t want to give the cartoonist any more material to use as a theme for his next “work of art.”

On Thursday, practice was rained out. A steady downpour washed over the area, and there was nothing to do but hunker down indoors after school had ended for the day.

BOOK: Soccer Scoop
2.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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