The McGaw YMCA “Adult Coed Soccer League” play-offs took place on Sunday April 17, delivering goals, drama and entertainment.  While the trophy was taken home by Val Old Style, the real victor on Sunday afternoon was soccer itself.

The first semi-final saw the unbeaten, and ironically named, Joga Bonita take on Fish Keg United.  In a match-up between 1st and 4th this was meant to be an easy victory for Joga Bonita, but Fish Keg did not read the script.  With their talisman, Matthew, delivering the stand-out individual performance of the afternoon (marshaling the defense and breaking in to attack like a young Franz Beckenbauer), Fish Keg took a shock 3-0 lead in the first 15 minutes.  Joga Bonita had built their season around a mixture of attractive skill in attack and, somewhat cynical, muscular defense.  But, when engaged head-to-head for physicality, Joga Bonita had no plan-B and never fully recovered.  This wasn’t meant to happen, but Fish Keg United were in the final!

The second semi-final saw 3rd place Bucky Balls take on 2nd place Val Old Style, managed by the enigmatic South American, Cassio Da Silva.  Practicing a soccer philosophy born in Brazil, but perfected in Skokie, Da Silva’s manifesto can be summed up with his uncompromising and inspirational call-to-arms – “Don’t be sorry. Play Better!”  It seemed to be a day for shocks when Bucky Balls took a 2-0 lead in the first half.  Clinical finishing from Val Old Style’s wily and overly competitive center forward drew scores level before half-time.  But the second half saw Bucky Balls regain their two goal cushion and, with 5 minutes to play, Val Old Style were on their way out of the competition 4-2 down and seemingly on the canvas.  Then, with the time running out, Da Silva’s team drew on unknown reservoirs of commitment to finish the game tied, 4-4. 

A further 5 minutes of over-time could not separate these two behemoths of the coed indoor world and a place in the final would come down to the dreaded penalty shoot outs.  “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” – Val Old Style’s goalkeeper, Aaron “The Professor” Melnick would not be beaten easily.  It was to be the final the purists had hoped for – Fish Keg United v Val Old Style.

As often the case, the big finale could not live up to the drama of the previous games.  Running on adrenaline Val Old Style took a two goal lead in at half-time, including an opening goal of team work and elegant beauty crafted from a Melnick pass, a feint, an inch perfect cross from Strzelecki and a clinical finish.  The second half bogged down in a Verdun-like stalemate characterized by tiredness and over exuberant tackles from both sides.  But there was still drama to come.  A tired challenge saw Val’s incomparable Colleen go to ground and leave the field with minor concussion.  Without its organizational glue, the Val Old Style defense was breached.  But 2-1 was to be the final score as the Old Stylers, with maturity befitting their name, stroked the ball around the pitch while the clock wound down.

Val Old Style were worthy champions.  In 3 hours of soccer that day, the team had scored 14 goals and left gallons of sweat on the McGaw YMCA Field.  In a triumph for globalization and enlightened immigration policy, Val played in the resplendent yellow of Brazil, Australia and Nelson Mandela’s South Africa – the Rainbow Nation.  Val’s rainbow included representatives of all four corners of the world, Brazil, Australia, Mexico, Serbia, other nations and a core of home-grown Americans.  Well played to all involved and a big thank you to the referees, tasked with maintaining order in a highly competitive and simmering cauldron of soccer action.