When I was 11 and 12 I played on a summer soccer team, the Saint Paul Blackhawks, in the level Classic 2 (In a heirarchy of Premier, Classic 1, Classic 2, and Classic 3), or C2. As a team in the Twin Cities, the biggest event of the summer was the USA Cup in July at the Blaine soccer complex. This is a week-long gala of soccer that now hosts over 1,000 teams and 15,000 players. I played in the tournament almost every summer from the age of 11 until 19.
The USA Cup was something I took for granted as a local player, but looking back, it afforded me an opportunity to play against players who were from far away locales and with remarkably more skill. There were many times my team was completely outclassed by visiting teams (including a 9-0 loss to a Swedish team which we had tied earlier in the week), but one game stands out from the others. When I was 11 or 12, playing on the St Paul Blackhawks C2 team, we played a team from Chile. I don't remember the name of the team, and I couldn't find any records of the tournament online or in any old papers I might have had. It was probably a team from one of the larger academy teams in the country like Universidad de Chile or Universidad Católica, but really I have no idea, and this is groundless speculation.
In the game itself, we lost 16-0. I have only been involved in one other game of 16 goals, and that game was the first of my lofty career (I scored 5 goals that day, if you were wondering). By the end of the game my team didn't even feel the stingly of defeat keenly, such was the overwhelming skill of the Chilean team. I remember seeing at least one player score a bicycle kick. It was simply a privilege to play against such a talented team. The game, as I remember it, was fun and clean apart from the fact that we got tonked, and the scoreline was not simply the Chilean team rushing to run up the score; it was an accurate reflection of the gulf in talent. I don't know if they won the tournament for our age bracket that year, but I would be surprised if they did not.
I am writing about this now because the game popped into my head a few days ago, and I began wondering where the players are now. What they're up to, whether they still play soccer, if one or two might even be professional players now. They are (still) about the same age as I, and I imagine them asking themselves the same existential questions of how to hew happiness from the tree of life (indulge me) and how to be a morally productive member of a society I'm not sure I support. Whether life is easy, hard, fulfilling, colourful, worth it. I only saw these people for a couple hours on one day. Perhaps that was a small triumph in a smattering of trophies, or their finest hour on the field. Some might remember the game; most probably do not. Did those players regard the trip as a success then, and do they still now? Do they even think about the trip anymore? All of this minutiae of humanity these players had and have; I want to know it, and know them. As I am a living maifestation of ego, I want them to know me, to know that I have not forgotten those two hours of life, to know that I think of them. I want to be in some small way relevant to them, and for them to know they are relevant to me.
Given that I have no easy method of finding out what team that was, and therefore who those players were and are, I shall put that project on the infinite list of personal projects, and stumble on with a slight diversion. How likely is it that any of the people I played against more than a decade ago are now playing professional soccer?
According to the English Premier League and Football League, less than 16% of players that sign professional contracts at the age of 16 are still playing professionally by the time they turn 21. While the football cultures and professional paths in England and Chile are doubtless different, the numbers are problably the same. And in a whole 20 minutes of searching I was unable to find any data about what percent of youth-team players at a professional club are actually good enough to be offered pro contracts when they are 16, so let's guess outrageously high and say 10%. I'd say there were probably 20 players on the team, which in our supremely flawed guesstimation means 2 of the players of that team were offered pro contracts about 8 years ago (when they were 16). With only 16% of players staying professional by the time they are 21, ie. 3 years ago, it's very unlikely that any of the players I played against are playing for pay these days. It would be cool to say that I played against people who are now professional, but I'd rather wish that their lives are meaningful to them and have moments of joy. And maybe, they've thought once or twice about a team they played off the park many summers ago.