The Bobcats’ soccer team was holding tryouts for new players and Jim’s dream had always been to play on that team. They were the city champs.
He ran all the way to the soccer field, but slowed down when he spotted the Bobcats’ black and bright yellow striped shirts. There they are, he reveled silently. All over the field, kicking, dribbling, and heading their soccer balls.
A small dark-haired boy was dribbling his ball along the edge of the sideline toward Jim. He ran like a whippet, keeping the ball close to his feet. When he saw Jim, he stopped and smiled. “Hi! Trying out today?” he asked.
“What position do you play?”
“Right or left wing.”
The boy turned and started up the field. A No. 3 was printed on the back of his shirt. He darted and swerved, making quick turns as he dribbled among the other players. Jim watched him for a few moments. No. 3 is good and very fast, he decided.
Walking over to the coach, who was wearing a black sweat suit with the word Bobcats in yellow letters across the back, Jim took some deep breaths and tried to relax. His stomach felt kind of funny.
The coach was surrounded by boys in different colored shirts and shorts. He turned and, seeing Jim, smiled at him.
Jim swallowed. “My name is Jim—Jim Simpson,” he said.
“Ah! Yes, Jim! Your coach called and talked to me about you. So you want to play for the Bobcats?”
The coach smiled and pulled out a whistle from his pocket. He blew it once. All the Bobcats ran toward him.
“Ok, boys, let’s have a practice game. All of you not in uniform take off your shirts—the Skins against the Bobcats. You new boys, listen as I call your name and position.”
Jim finally heard his name. “Jim Simpson, right halfback.”
Right halfback! He had been playing wing for five years. It was his special spot. Jim decided not to say anything. All the boys ran out onto the field and took their positions. The coach blew his whistle and the game began.
The ball was kicked right by Jim. He hesitated momentarily and missed it. He glanced at the coach, but he wasn’t watching. The Bobcats’ No. 3 had control of the ball and was pressing hard down the field. Jim ran toward him and reached out to kick the ball away, but No. 3 had quickly turned and headed toward the sideline. Jim was right behind him. No. 3 stopped and tapped the ball up into the air with his foot. Jim ran around the player and reached for the ball, but No. 2 had already started dribbling away toward the penalty area. Jim raced after him. He saw No. 3 chip the ball to the waiting Bobcat center forward who was right in front of the net. The center forward jumped up and headed the ball down to the right of the goalie’s outstretched arms. It shot past the goalie and bounced off the back of the net.
As the Bobcats ran back toward the center of the field, No. 3 called to the Bobcat center, “All right!” “Good work, boys!” the coach congratulated them.
Jim looked down at his cleats and frowned. The Bobcats were a tough team, but maybe he could slow down their No. 3 by trying to keep him away from the ball. For the rest of the half, Jim stuck close to No. 3 and kept after him, never letting up. Sweat trickled down the sides of his face. His blonde hair stuck to his forehead.
Once No. 3 turned and said, “What are you, my shadow?”
Jim grinned and raced after him to the other end of the field.
But a few seconds later, his smile faded as he watched the Bobcats score again. No. 3 had assisted on the goal by swerving the ball around three Skin defenders to a waiting teammate, who turned and shot the ball under the crossbar. The score was now 2–0.
The game continued with the Bobcats easily passing the ball from one to another. The Skins chased after them, never getting control of the ball for very long. Twice the Bobcats shot at the goal and missed. Then late in the second half, the Bobcat sweeper sent the ball halfway down the field toward No. 3, who lightly turned the ball with his foot and started to work his way to the sideline. Jim ran beside him, trying to get the ball, but No. 3 was always a step ahead. Suddenly No. 3 stopped and tapped the ball up into the air with his foot. Jim muttered, “Just like last time.”
But this time Jim didn’t run to the side. As the ball started down toward the ground, he reached with his foot under No. 3’s right leg and backheeled it. He had a happy grin on his face as he turned and quickly moved the ball back down the field toward the Bobcats’ goalie. He dribbled around the Bobcat halfback and passed to the Skins’ center halfback, who streaked up the middle of the field. Jim kept up with him. He looked over his shoulder and saw No. 3 close behind him. Then Jim poured it on. With a burst of speed, he pulled ahead and turned toward his teammate, who passed the ball to him. He heard the Bobcat fullback, who was all by himself in front of the goalie, yell, “Help!”
Jim tore down the field toward them. The goalie crouched between the goalposts. Jim knew he had to fake the fullback out, and he knew how to do it. As the fullback tried to get the ball, Jim leaned his body to the left. The fullback leaned in the same direction. So did the goalie. With his right foot, Jim shot the ball past the fullback to an opening right between the goalpost and the goalie. The goalie dove down on the ball, but it slid out and Jim was right there. Stepping over the goalie’s arm, his left foot reached out and smacked the ball into the net. The score was now 2–1! A second later the coach blew his whistle. “Game’s over!” he called.
Raising his arms above his head, Jim leaped up into the air. He had worked hard for his goal.
No. 3 walked over to him. “Say, shadow, that was a good goal.”
“Jim!” the coach called across the field. “Stick around, I want to talk to you.”
No. 3 touched Jim’s arm. “Hope you made the team.”
Jim shook his head wearily. “I made a goal, but I don’t think I played good enough for the Bobcats.”
Sighing, he sat down on the grass. He watched No. 3 run down the field toward the water fountain. It looked like the Bobcats had a terrific wing. I’m just not fast enough, Jim concluded. Even if the coach asked me to be on the team, I’d probably spend all my time standing around on the sidelines. I’d probably never get a chance to play because their other wing is good too.
“That was some goal!”
Jim looked up as the coach sat down next to him.
“You have good balance—leaning one way and shooting with the other foot.”
“I saw it done on TV, and I’ve been practicing.”
“Sounds like you’re pretty serious about soccer.”
Jim smiled, “It’s my favorite sport. I’d like to learn how to play it better.”
“I’ve been watching you play, Jim. I came to quite a few of your games. You know it isn’t often that someone takes the ball away from Tony—he’s No. 3. He’s a fast wing, and you control the ball well. You’d make a good halfback. I think you two would make a great combination. How’d you like to come to the team’s regular practice next Tuesday?”
Jim could hardly believe what he heard. His eyes sparkled as he nodded his head. “I’d like that, coach. I’d really like to be a Bobcat.”
“Good, because that’s just what you are!”