Suddenly, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared.
Anyone? Anyone? Mr. Benn? No? Ok, when I was a child there was a cartoon on television called Mr. Benn. Mr. Benn was a business man. You could tell this because he wore a bowler hat, the international sign of businessmen. He would go to a costume shop on his way home from work and look at the outfits. Then, as the calm voice of the narrator would tell us, “Suddenly, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared.” You could tell he was a shopkeeper (he had a mustache) in a costume shop because he wore a fez (the international sign of costume shop workers). He would suggest a costume for Mr. Benn, who would then go to the changing room to try it on. Once suited up, Mr. Benn would go off and have magical adventures in the world as whatever he was dressed as – a pirate, a knight, a wizard, a spaceman. When he returned to the real world, he would always bring a souvenir home, and we’d all have learned a little lesson about being nice to each other, working together, not bullying and embracing differences.
Last night, RayoOKC pulled their first home victory out of the bag, and what a victory it was. The squad, stretched as thin as the elbows on a history professor’s jacket due to injuries and suspensions, was facing a respected and well seasoned opposition, under pressure to secure a thus far illusive home victory in their final home game before the summer break. Thanks to Tyler Gibson’s first NASL goal in the 69th minute, the day was most emphatically seized.
Gibson wasn’t alone. Man of the Match Kosuke Kimura had four crosses blocked in the first half alone. Let that sink in for a minute. It’s a testament not only to Kimura, but to the spirit and commitment of the entire team that they secured a vital one nil victory at home, and the man of the match was not the goal scorer. Robbie Findlay ensured the Minnesota keeper, Sammy Ndjock, earned his salt for the full 90 minutes with Richard Menjivar and Ian Svantesson adding to the Cameroonian international keeper’s workload.
Off the field was a night for the books too. The supporters group was vocal and passionate. Members of Rayo’s Red Army and the new mysterious masked Luchador gamely singing along to each others chants with not a clue what the words meant really illustrates the worldwide intangible positivity of soccer. The stands were respectfully filled with an enthusiastic crowd. Even the weather was cooperative, possibly due to the influence of local meteorologist Emily Sutton who provided a, quite frankly, shockingly good rendition of the National Anthem before the game. It was, for want of a better phrase, a proper soccer night. The injured and ineligible players didn’t take the night off either. They sat with the crowd and cheered on their teammates.
We were all kids again last night. We all sat down after school, drank our milk, ate our snack and watched our show. We cheered for our heroes, heckled the villain, we laughed and we cried. We were scared for a minute, but the good guys won in the end. We got our souvenir and we slept in our beds knowing that, for at least a moment, all was right with the world.
But make no mistake; this was not a long forgotten episode of a 1970’s children’s cartoon. This was not the B team, the reserves, the rookies or some last ditch “run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it” throw of the dice. This was RayoOKC. Sure, there are shirts to be earned, positions to be won, statements to be made, but nobody I saw on that field last night was playing dress up. The only question remaining is for Head Coach Alen Marcina: what lesson did we learn?