Soccer never stops

~ By Patrick Shea ~

If playing soccer in your ’70s sounds like an EvelKnievel stunt, hundreds of men and women across the country are daredevils.

Since 1998, the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) Veteran’s Cup has attracted senior teams for the national championship tournament. The 2014 edition in Virginia Beach in July will feature two new upper divisions: over-70 men and over-64 women.

My first USASA Veteran’s Cup was also my first visit to Hawaii. In 2003, I joined a team from Seattle called Tri-Alliance 2002 (TA2 for short). They combined players from three different teams to assemble a group of 24 guys who could survive the five-day tournament. Veteran’s Cup games are not abbreviated. Every player expects a 90-minute battle on regulation-sized fields, a serious affair. For the Seattle players, it was like old times. They won national championships as kids during the 1970s and ’80s.

In 2005, my second Veteran’s Cup in Wilmington, North Carolina was a great reunion with TA2, but the return of the over-70 exhibition team from Japan was even more special. I remember these men elegantly moving the ball around the field in Hawaii, and they looked even smoother two years later.

The Veteran’s Cup committee moves the tournament site every two years. Past cities include Sanford, Florida; Lancaster, Massachusetts; Bellingham, Washington; Beckley, West Virginia; Nashua, New Hampshire; and Escondido, California.

In 2013, 18 of our original 24 TA2 players reunited in Escondido. Battling in the over-50 division, we felt the added degree of difficulty. Aging a decade and hoping for the same results is like a diver who adds an extra flip or twist, just to make it interesting.

Long story short: We experienced all the cliches and won another championship. We had to “dig down deep” physically. We had to “work as a team” because we were making more mistakes and needed more help from each other. And we shared the resolve “not to quit” despite being down a goal twice. The game went into overtime, ultimately ending 4-3 in our favor.

Again, the enduring highlight for me in Escondido was the elegant exhibition from the visiting Japanese team. They’ve surely refreshed their roster since 2003, but the spirit remains the same. Perhaps this spirit inspired the Veteran’s Cup committee to add an over-70 division for men this year.

Daredevils or not, the men and women who continue to play soccer in the eighth decade of their lives share a special spirit, a love for a special game.

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