By Alexi Knock, Managing Editor
The extent of my soccer experience goes as follows. I was 6 years old; wearing a green peewee soccer jersey stained with orange juice, trying to remember which goal I was supposed to kick the ball into with my lanky, uncoordinated legs. I always thought the main rule of soccer was that when my parents cheered from their lawn chairs and took me to Baskin Robbins post game, I knew I did something right. If Mom and Dad pretended like they didn't know me during the game but still took me to Baskin Robbins, I questioned my skills a little.
Like so many other Americans, I didn't know the first thing about soccer. I knew players couldn't use their hands, I realized that the goalies wear random colors and I knew that David Beckham is married to Posh Spice.
I'm embarrassed to say that I had never attended a Hofstra soccer game until Tuesday, when the men's team took on Penn State, a Big Ten school.
Notebook in hand, I decided to use this game as an opportunity to learn as much as I could about the game in nine innings - which I soon learned was actually two halves of 45 minutes each. Like a true student journalist, I did my research. With the help of Max Sass, The Chronicle's Editor in Chief and former Sports Editor, senior midfielder Gareth James and head coach Richard Nuttall, I believe I racked up enough information to actually follow the happenings of the game.
It's cold. Should I have worn this red pea coat? People might realize I'd rather talk fashion than football. They just announced the starting lineup. The only name I recognized was Shaun Foster, and that's because I liked the scarf he wore on the back cover of the The Chronicle.
Start of Game
It's freezing. Considering running back to dorm for additional clothing. Oh well, the game is about to get started. Max is throwing out facts rapidly at me as I write in chicken scratch and try to watch the game at the same time. I learn about the number of players on the pitch and the boundaries – basic stuff, I know, but to me it's a whole new language.
I adjust my scarf to cover nearly half my face. I learn about fouls and the free kicks – either direct or indirect – that follow. I decide that my favorite part of the game is when a player is getting ready for his free kick and the rest of both teams are attempting to inch closer and closer to the ball. Call me biased, but every time a group of strapping young lads are together in a huddle…sweating…all jacked and buff, I just - okay focus Alexi.
I am knowledgeable enough to realize that the Nittany Lions have possession much more frequently than the Pride. It's really awesome that so many other Hofstra athletes came out to support the team. They are all wrapped in blue and yellow blankets and seem warm and toasty – clearly these athletes have done this before.
Mmm, watery hot cocoa for a mere $2.50. There's no score and no Max talking in my ear for the first time in 45 minutes. I think I'm starting to get the hang of this. I recognize what is expected of the midfielders, forwards, defenders and goalkeeper. I'm still not sure what position I was playing when I was 6.
Penn State scored a goal. They lead 1-NIL, that's right NIL, not zero – that's what you're supposed to call it in soccer. Max is screaming at the referee after he gave a yellow card to midfielder Chris Griebsch. "Someone give the ref a yellow card!" Max yells at the top of his lungs. Now I'm cold and embarrassed.
GOOOAAAALLLLLL! Hofstra defender Tyler Botte deflected one into the back of the net off the Griebsch free kick. All tied up at one! Did I just think that? Wow, this game is getting clearer. But my toes are getting colder. Boat shoes were a bad decision.
End of Regulation
Hofstra and Penn State are all tied up. Here, I learn about the complex, but ever important off sides rule. From what I gathered, any time an offensive player is not in possession of the ball and goes behind the last defender (excluding the goalie) on the opposing team, he is considered off sides and any goal he scores thereafter is null. Max tells me this is one of the more difficult concepts. I think I've officially graduated from the peewee level.
Both teams are working hard to score that glorifying overtime goal. One of the players on Penn State has a severely ripped sock, resulting from a collision with a Hofstra player. Didn't his mother pack him a change? My mother always did. Not today though, I think my toes are falling off.
End of Game
The game ends in a tie. The Hofstra players are pleased by a hard fought game. I walked onto the field afterwards – after a brief questioning from a Public Safety Officer of course – and spoke with some of the players about the most important aspects of soccer.
"If you know the off sides rule, you'll really understand a lot," said coach Richard Nuttall as his young daughter ran up to him, only to be lifted in the air. So cute.
I then stood in a circle with Max, Shaun Foster and Chris Griebsch as we disscussed the game and things around campus. I really felt like I was one of the gang.
I then asked Gareth James, who had earned his first career start that evening, what was the number one most important fact to remember about soccer.
"You're shivering," he said in a not-so-subtle New Zealand accent. Max hands me his scarf. I guess being a ‘tough' member of the crowd has officially been ruled out.
"But seriously, soccer teams need good cooperation and communication," Gareth added. "The really great teams are not necessarily the ones with the most skills, they are the ones with the best communication."
I then proceed to compliment him. "You played with pace today," I told him, and "You had great distribution out of the back." Both clearly direct quotes from Max I had prepared.
I learned so much in just one game, and I can't wait to come back here on Saturday for Senior Day against James Madison. Maybe next time I'll remember to dress a little warmer.