I wish I could tell you that I escaped my playing career without getting a red card, but my ‘hard tackling’ reputation would be discredited if I wasn’t sent for an early shower at least once. If you must know, I have two on my record, but one in particular is memorable for many reasons. One of these being that it was broadcasted on national TV, on Fox Soccer Channel to be exact. I remember it like it was yesterday.
The year was 2005 and my University of North Carolina team traveled to College Park, Maryland to take on the Maryland Terrapins. It was a highly touted match, with several future pros on the pitch: Dax McCarty, Michael Harrington, and Corey Ashe to name a few in light blue, with Maurice Edu, AJ Delagarza, and Robbie Rogers and more for Maryland. It was only right that a game of this magnitude would be shown live on FSC.
For anyone who’s unfamiliar with Maryland’s soccer stadium, Ludwig Field, there is student section behind each goal, which makes it look as if the supporters are on top of the players. The Maryland fans are ruthless with their insults, even Facebooking several of our players to find dirt on them. One of our goalkeepers had a bit of a receding hair-line, so the crowd yelled out “Rogaine, Rogaine” every time he went to kick a goal kick. They were relentless.
The game started and it was a back and forth match with each team having their chances on goal. We felt good about how the game was going over the first 20 minutes, until our keeper made a fatal mistake and gifted them a goal. A couple of minutes later, they were up 2-0.
We held until halftime and still thought we were in the game but the wheels fell completely off as we gave up two early goals to be down 4-0.
58 minutes in, we moved to three in the back as we chased the game, with me as the right back in this system. The game was getting out of hand in terms of them controlling it and bringing out the party tricks. Their left-back and midfielder combined around one of our players and the ball was loose for a 50/50 challenge. If I’m being generous, it was at least a 60/40 to the advantage of the attacker. My line of thought was, “Countless times I’ve seen the player with the advantage try to lift the ball over a sliding defender.” As I slid in, I decided to raise my foot in anticipation of the player attempting to lift the ball over me.
He wasn’t thinking along the same lines. Instead, he decided to hit a cross-field pass, and I clattered directly into his life.
To this day, I cannot not recall seeing the ref raise the red card. I saw him sprinting towards me and knew what time it was, so I walked directly to the bench. After realizing that I needed to head to our locker rooms for the rest of the game, I made the slow walk around the field with the added embarrassment of the cameraman’s enormous video camera shoved in my face until he mercifully ran out of wire and left me in peace.
When I made it to the other side, to the discredit of Maryland’s operation staff, no one escorted me towards the trailer to make sure it was unlocked once I got there. As I was walking all by myself, an adult Maryland fan got up out of his seat, walked toward me, screaming in my face, “You’re an asshole, you really could have hurt him!” At the time, I didn’t hear a word he said, I simply was concerned about whether or not I needed to fight this man since I was left alone. Or so I thought. One of my older cousins had come to the game to support me, and since several other people weren’t doing their job, he’d followed me to make sure everything was fine. He confronted the heckler, who changed his tune with lightning speed, lowering his voice to try and be friends after it. I laughed as I turned my back, headed into the trailer, got changed and waited until the match ended with a final score of 4-1 to Maryland.
Even though I came off as the bad guy who tackles anything moving, I honestly felt bad about injuring the guy. I’ve always intended to play hard, but to play the right way. In that moment, I miscalculated and did something I would take back. I was glad to see him come back the next year and I apologized to him face to face the first chance I got. My second red card? That’s a story for another day. What’s your favorite red card story?