Tyler hopes for an unbeatable season for his soccer team, but is that even possible when his friendsand the team’s best playersleave for an elite travel team?
With their best players gone, Tyler is excited when Coach Murray gives him the midfielder position. It’s tough, and despite how hard Tyler tries, his team can’t seem to win a game. Then an elderly English soccer fan tells Tyler about the United States’ 1–0 surprise upset against England, the world’s number one team, in the 1950 World Cup. Inspired by these underdogs and their one play that changed the course of the game, Tyler finds a new sense of determination. But is one play really enough to beat the top-ranked team in their own league?
Weaving a fast-paced story of jealousy, compassion, and pride, author Fred Bowen excites readers in this classic tale of underdogs rising to victory. Find out the real story of the 1950 World Cup match between the United States and England in the afterword.
Discussion Guide available.
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Soccer Team Upset
By Fred Bowen
PeachtreeCopyright © 2009 Fred Bowen
All rights reserved.
Back pass!" Tyler Davis called out to his teammate Zack Bell. They had been playing on the same soccer teams since they were little kids. Now they were in seventh grade, playing for the Cougars and battling the Sharks in a scoreless game.
Zack sent the ball spinning right to Tyler's feet. Zack knows exactly where to pass it, Tyler thought. He quickly controlled the ball with a foot tap and checked the action on the field. A Sharks defender was charging toward him. Tyler managed to nudge the ball away as his opponent tried to kick it. The defender's foot caught nothing but air and he fell with a thud.
Tyler spotted another teammate, Mario Cruz, racing down the right wing. Tyler set up the ball with a slight tap of his left foot, kicked it with his right, and sent the ball curving downfield.
Mario trapped the ball after one bounce and looked up to see Zack, the Cougars attacking midfielder, angle past a Sharks defender and race to the goal. Mario centered a pass, low and hard, straight to Zack.
The Sharks defense charged toward Zack to block his shot on goal. But it was too late. In a flash Zack rocketed the ball past the goalkeeper.
"Goooooaaaal!" Tyler shouted, stretching the word to the breaking point. What a shot! he thought as he raced toward his teammates.
The Cougars crowded around Zack, trading high fives and slapping him on the back.
"Nice pass," Zack said, nodding to Mario.
Mario smiled. "Don't thank me," he said. "Tyler started the play with that pass down the wing."
The Cougars celebration didn't last long. Ms. Murray, their coach, kept them focused on the game. She paced the sidelines, clapping and shouting encouragement as they headed back to their positions. "Good work, guys. Great passes, Tyler and Mario. Don't let up. We're only up by one. Remember to help on defense."
Coach Murray didn't have to worry. The Cougars controlled the rest of the first half, playing with a cool, quiet confidence. Justin Sheridan, the Cougars striker, scored on a header just before the half to increase the Cougars lead to 2–0.
At halftime, the team sprawled on the soft grass under the warm September sunshine and sucked on orange slices.
"Good job, guys," Coach Murray said as she looked around the small circle of players. "I like the passing. Move the ball from side to side. Play possession, like you're playing keep-away. We have a two-goal lead."
"Are we going with the same lineup in the second half?" Tyler asked.
"Tyler's looking to score a goal," Zack whispered to the other Cougars in a teasing voice.
"Same starters for the second half," Coach Murray said, nodding. "I know this is a preseason game, but I want you to play like it's for the championship."
The referee blew his whistle and signaled the teams to get ready.
Coach Murray looked out toward the field. "All right now, let's keep playing hard. Everybody hustle," she said. "We're only up by two goals. The Sharks can come back."
Tyler traded sly smiles with Zack and Mario. That's what Coach thinks, he told himself. The Cougars knew they had this game won.
Sure enough, the Cougars controlled the second half, too. From his position on the wing, Tyler watched Zack in awe. His friend kept the ball close to his feet as he dodged defenders and let the clock run down. Then, suddenly, Zack flew toward the goal, dribbling hard and fast to escape the Sharks defense. Glancing to his right, Zack spied Mario slicing toward the goal. But the Sharks goalie saw Mario, too.
Zack fired the ball to the left, past the Sharks defense. Cougars midfielder Nate Tanzi raced in and blasted the ball into the net.
"Goooaaaal!" Tyler shouted again, with a big, happy grin. Man, Zack has moves! he thought.
"All right, Nate!" Coach Murray shouted, jumping in the air. "Nice ball, Zack."
After the game, as Tyler, Mario, and Zack gathered up their things, Coach Murray walked over and said, "Good game, guys. You were awesome today. We'll definitely be ready for the regular season."
"When's our first game, again, Coach?" Tyler asked.
"Right here, next Saturday—a week from today—at two o'clock. I'll give out schedules at Wednesday's practice. Team rosters will be posted on the league's website tomorrow. See you Wednesday." She headed off to the parking lot with a bag of soccer balls slung over her shoulder.
Tyler and his friends stayed at the edge of the field, reliving the game.
"That first goal was sweet," Tyler said.
Zack shrugged. "I could have scored five goals against those guys. The Sharks aren't very good."
Tyler smiled to himself. Just like Zack. Always thinking he's the best, he thought.
"The Sharks weren't so bad," Mario said.
"What do you mean?" Zack said. "I hardly broke a sweat playing them."
"So how come your shirt is so wet?" Tyler asked, pulling at Zack's damp soccer shirt. "And smelly, too. Oooo-weeee!"
Mario laughed, but Zack flicked Tyler's hand off his shirt. "Cut it out," he said.
Just then Zack's dad walked up. "Good game, guys. Hey, Zack, Mr. Wexler wants to talk to you."
"Where is he?" Zack asked, looking around.
"Back on the field, near the far goal."
"Okay." Zack headed back toward the field with his father. "I'll see you tomorrow," he called back to Tyler and Mario.
"See ya." Tyler waved.
The two boys trudged slowly toward the parking lot. "Who's Mr. Wexler?" Tyler asked Mario.
"He's the coach of the Putty Hill Panthers," Mario said. "You know, that travel team with all the hotshot players?"
"Oh yeah." Tyler nodded. He knew they played on the high school field and wore uniforms that looked like the ones the pros wear. "I wonder what he wants with Zack."
"What do you think he wants?" Mario said. "He's been bugging Zack to play for the Panthers for years."
Tyler looked off toward the field and spotted Zack and his dad talking to Mr. Wexler. "Zack wouldn't leave the Cougars for the Panthers," he said. "We've got the perfect team."CHAPTER 2
Tyler saw the football spiraling through the Sunday afternoon sunshine. He reached up with both hands, pulled it from the sky, and raced down the field. "Touchdown!" he shouted as he crossed into the end zone, holding the football high above his head.
"You pushed off," Devante Watson protested. "Pass interference."
"I didn't push off," Tyler insisted. "Don't be a wimp."
Devante looked to the other two players for support. Ben Rosen and Ramon Campos just rolled their eyes. "Come on, let's keep playing," said Ben.
Devante got madder. "You guys all play on the Cougars. That's why you're siding with Tyler. I'm telling you, it was definitely pass interference."
Just then Mario arrived at the field.
"Did you see that last play?" Devante asked him.
"Yeah, I saw it," Mario said.
"He pushed off," Devante said, pointing at Tyler. He thrust his hands up and away from his chest to demonstrate. "That's offensive-pass interference!"
"Wait a second," Tyler broke in. "Mario saw the play. Let him make the call."
Mario paused, pretending to think. He looked at Tyler and then at Devante. Then he shouted, "Touchdown!"
Devante turned away in disgust. "No way, man," he said. "You and Tyler always stick together. That was pass interference."
"Come on, Devante," Tyler said. "It's not even a real game. We're just fooling around until Zack shows up."
"Hey, guess what I've got," Mario said, changing the subject. He waved some papers in front of the boys.
"The soccer league rosters."
"Who cares?" Devante said, frowning. "I don't even play soccer. We're supposed to be playing football, remember?"
The boys ignored him and crowded around Mario as he unfolded the rosters.
"We're stacked," Tyler said, reading over Mario's shoulder. "We have Zack, Justin, Nate, Mario, Ben, Ramon, and me ..."
"The Mud Dogs look good, too," Mario pointed out. "They've got Casey DeCamp, George Drumheller, Collin Gillis, Martin Reyes, and Bobby Wilden."
"No way they can beat us," Tyler said, dismissing the thought with a wave. "They don't have anyone who can cover Zack. He's the best player in the league. And we've got Nate and Justin."
"How about the Mustangs?" Ben asked. "They look good."
"Well, okay," Tyler said. "Maybe one or two teams have a chance of beating us. But only a couple."
"Don't be too sure," Mario warned.
"Yeah," Devante put in. "You might lose a game because the ref makes a lousy call. Like pass interference."
"Will you forget the pass interference?" Mario said.
Tyler tapped the roster sheet. "I bet we'll win the league," he said. "And then we'll get to play in the County Cup with all the other town champs."
"Yeah, but the County Cup has travel teams in it, too," Ben said.
"And one of them usually wins the County Cup," Mario said. "Those travel teams are like all-stars. They're really good."
Tyler shrugged off Mario's opinion. "We can play with them. Especially if we've got Zack."
"Speaking of playing," Devante said as he held up the football. "Hel-looooo? How about getting back to football?"
"We've only got five players," Tyler said. "You can't have fair teams with five."
"What if one of us plays permanent quarterback?" Devante pleaded.
"Permanent quarterback stinks," Tyler said.
"Where's Zack?" Mario asked, looking around.
"I don't know," Tyler said. "I told him we were playing at two o'clock. What time is it now?"
"It doesn't matter. Why don't you start at permanent quarterback?" Devante asked. "That way you can't push off and commit pass interference."
"Hey, there's Zack," Tyler said.
Everyone turned and saw Zack riding his bike toward them. Zack pulled to a stop, hopped off his bike, and let it fall to the ground. Tyler raced over to Zack and handed him the roster. "Mario got all the team rosters," he said. "Man, we are so sweet."
"Yeah, we're loaded," Mario said.
Zack stared blankly at the Cougars roster. Finally he looked up and said, "I'm not playing."
"What? You mean football?" Tyler asked.
"No." Zack handed the roster back to Tyler. "I mean I'm not playing for the Cougars this year."CHAPTER 3
What do you mean, you're not playing?" Tyler blurted out. "Are you moving?" Ben asked.
"What's wrong?" asked Mario. "Are you sick or something?"
"Are you flunking math?" Tyler asked.
"No ... no ... no ...," Zack said. "I'm playing for the Putty Hill Panthers."
Tyler's mouth dropped open in surprise. "What? Since when?"
"Since yesterday. Coach Wexler asked me and Justin and Nate to join the team."
"Justin and Nate, too?" Tyler gasped. Mario and Ben groaned.
"And you guys said yes?" Tyler couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"Can you maybe play for both teams?" Mario asked desperately.
"You can't do that. It's against the rules," Zack said. "And anyway, the Panthers have more practices and they have games or a tournament every weekend. There's no way I could play for both."
Tyler looked back at the Cougars roster and imagined the list without the names Zack Bell, Justin Sheridan, and Nate Tanzi.
Without them, the Cougars roster looked a lot less sweet. There was no way they'd get to the County Cup now.
"It's gonna be great. Coach Wexler really wants me for the team, but I've always said no before," Zack said quickly, his words tumbling over one another. "The Panthers have lost some players this season, and they need me as a midfielder. Justin will play striker."
Tyler could barely stand hearing about the Panthers. It wasn't fair, Zack changing teams right before the Cougars season. "What about us?" Tyler demanded. "We were going to have a great team."
"You guys will still be really good," Zack insisted. "You've got Mario and you ..." He looked down at the roster. "Hey, you might even get to play my position: attacking midfielder."
"We were gonna play together," Tyler said, "all the way through high school."
"We'll still play together in high school," Zack said.
Tyler started breathing slow and hard. He could feel the anger rising higher and higher inside him.
"Come on, Ty," Zack said, beginning to sound impatient. "The Panthers have better coaches—"
"Coach Murray is a really good coach," Mario insisted. "She played on a college soccer team."
"Yeah, but the players in the travel league are better, too. I mean, our game on Saturday was an easy win," Zack said.
"There are some decent teams in our league," Tyler said. "The Mud Dogs are pretty good. And the Mustangs—"
Zack rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Come on, none of those guys are any good," he said. "There's no way they could play for the Panthers."
"The Panthers aren't so great," Tyler snapped.
"You're just jealous that Mr. Wexler didn't ask you to be on the team," Zack shot back.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Tyler demanded.
But before Zack could answer, Mario said, "Hey, Ty, Zack's right. I mean, the Panthers are pretty good. Anyone would want to play for them."
"What?" said Tyler. "Since when are you on his side?"
"He isn't on my side! It's just the truth!" Zack shouted. "The Panthers are a great team. And sorry, but Mr. Wexler didn't pick either of you guys. He picked me and Justin and Nate."
"Hey, come on, Zack," Mario said. "You don't have to rub it in."
"Okay, but it's the truth." Then Zack lowered his voice and spoke more slowly. "Look, I really want to play travel soccer, okay? They play more games and go to tournaments and stuff. The Panthers won the County Cup a couple years ago."
"You may not get a chance to play that much," Mario pointed out. "The Panthers probably have somebody good at attacking midfielder."
"Then he'd better move over," Zack said, with a confident smile.
"I can't believe this!" Tyler said. "We've played together since second grade. And you're breaking up the team!"
"You still have a team," Zack said. The two of them stood just a few paces apart, staring at each other. "I'm just on another team," Zack said finally. "That's all."
"Okay, okay," Mario said, stepping between the two boys. "It's done. There's nothing you can do about it, Ty. Zack is playing for the Panthers and that's that."
"Yeah," Devante said. "So let's play some touch football."
"Fine," Mario said. "How about me, Devante, and Ben against you guys?"
Tyler felt his muscles tighten. He didn't want to be on Zack's team. Not now. Not after Zack had said he was leaving the Cougars. It would be like playing with a traitor.
"I can't play," Zack said as he got back on his bike. "I've got practice at three o'clock."
"It's only a little after two," Devante said. "We can get in a quick game."
Zack shook his head. "Nope. Coach Wexler wants us to get there early so we can stretch. I can't be late my first day."
"Man, we can't play with five," Devante complained. "It's not as much fun with five."
Still mad, Tyler kept quiet. He didn't want to play football with Zack anyway.
"I gotta go," Zack said. He pedaled away across the open field.
Tyler watched him ride off as the other boys argued about playing football with just five players. He felt like Zack was riding away with the whole Cougars soccer season.CHAPTER 4
Tweeeeeeet! Coach Murray's whistle cut through the warm autumn air. "All right, everybody," she called. "Bring it in."
The Cougars stopped stretching, jogged to the goalpost, and gathered in front of their coach. Tyler looked around at the players. The team seemed so much smaller without Zack, Justin, and Nate. It hardly seemed like a team at all.
Tyler turned back to Coach Murray. As usual, her dark ponytail poked out through the back of her red visor. She didn't look mad or even frustrated. It was as if nothing had happened to their team. "Okay, guys," she said in her matter-of-fact way. "I'm sure you've heard by now that Zack, Justin, and Nate have decided to play for the Putty Hill Panthers ..."
Tyler scanned his teammates. The Cougars were all nodding. Everyone had already heard the news.
"So," Coach continued, "we're going to get three new players—"
"Do we know who they are, Coach?" Ramon, the Cougars goalie, asked.
"Not yet," she answered as she took a swig from her water bottle. "But the league promised me new players by Saturday's game. There are still some kids in town who haven't been placed on a team."
"Leftovers," Tyler whispered to Mario.
"Yeah," Mario agreed.
"There's no way they're gonna be as good as Zack," Tyler whispered back, still looking at Coach Murray.
"So that means we're going to have to make some changes," Coach went on. She looked down at her clipboard. "Okay. Let's try Tyler at Zack's old position ..."
Excerpted from Soccer Team Upset by Fred Bowen. Copyright © 2009 Fred Bowen. Excerpted by permission of Peachtree.
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