Thursday night validated why we started this website. Unbeaten Liberty High School Boy's Soccer visited Freedom High School and its brand spanking new turf field. I must be honest...based on previous results, I thought this game might be over by half time. However, like any rivalry, all bets are off once the opening whistle blows. As many of us know and have experienced, pride takes center stage in almost any Liberty-Freedom game.
So, as the saying goes, everything happens for a reason. The plan was to go straight from coaching my son's U-11 team in Bethlehem Township to see the first half of the game and get my son home to do his homework. Everything was on track, as we arrived there a bit after kick-off. I go to get my camera out, flick it on and nothing. In my haste, I have left the battery charging at home. Classic. Great. New plan. Sadly, my son takes the brunt of dad's gaffe here and I have to take him home now after taking in a few minutes of the atmosphere. He was cool tired after a long day of school and sports. Actually, he offered to come back for the second half with me, after I grabbed the battery at home. I had a feeling it could be a long night and it was, so he stayed home.
The point here is that if I had remembered the battery, I most likely would not have stayed for the whole game. By the end of the night, I was glad I forgot it. I actually got back to the field just as the 1st half was finishing and to my astonishment the home team was up 1-0. Seriously, I was thinking Liberty would be up by at least a couple by now. Holy crap we got a game. The Liberty/Freedom rivalry is alive and well. I was mentally giving Freedom kudos before the 2nd half had even begun. As expected Freedom proceeded to stack up the defense and put up a united front led by goalkeeper Derek Bast that kept Liberty scoreless with under 10 minutes left in the game. Bast looked great, I have watched a ton of soccer over the last 6 months since we started this site -- most of it college and professional level and this kid put on a show that I would put up against goalie performances I have seen at all those levels. 15 saves in total, and ironically enough his best most incredible save came on a play didn't even count. He stuffed a blast that came on an offsides play that was whistled dead. But he handled the box like a pro and made all the right decisions. Of course he had this confidence partly because his defense was making all the right moves as well. Liberty was attacking non-stop. I parked myself at the freedom goal and saw probably 75%-80% of the game right in front me, I didn't have to move. I cannot think of one significantly poor decision or play the patriots made in front of Bast that whole 2nd half.
Finally with about 6 minutes left Sammy Abiles got a little bit of space at the top of the box and blasted one home to tie it up. This could quite possibly the biggest goal of their season. There was a tangibly high level of Hurricanes anxiety that was finally released all at once with that one shot. Even a tie in this situation would have been a victory for both teams in my opinion. There was a sense of "here we go again" with this Liberty team as they sometimes would have trouble previous years on bigger stages. That one goal salvaging a tie on this big stage could very well change that momentum in a positive direction moving forward for an entire season. As it turned out Sammy could do one better.
Off to overtime we go. The atmosphere was incredible. Now be aware we are in the new freedom "stadium". I hesitate to call it a stadium because while the field and facility itself are beautiful...the seating is scarce. Not sure they had a Liberty/Freedom soccer game in mind when they designed the stands :). So the vast majority of the fans are standing along the fences surrounding the stadium. In the case of the student rooting sections sometimes 3-4 kids deep. The teams were playing so hard; the fans were totally into it and were not afraid to show it. I just had to stop for a moment during the OT and breathe it all in. This right here is what its all about. Bethlehem Soccer at its purest form...so cool.
Both overtimes were actually much more even then the second half. Liberty was breathing a sigh of relief to some extent and Freedom was very interested in a 2nd goal. I just want to point out this was a rough game. These young men were laying it on the line. But that being said it was relatively clean and there was very little chippiness which considering the amount of physical play was very refreshing to see. I think that is a testament to the local club soccer establishment and the respect the players have for each other even across high school battle lines. After 79 minutes of play were still tied and I was getting ready to pack up my photo gear.
But hold the phone. Liberty made one final push and with 13 seconds left in the final OT...Sammy strikes again. This time from almost 30 yards out. I of course miss the pic of the goal. But I turned around to see as pure a celebration that I haven't seen since I played. The players on the field converged by the sideline nearest to me and then the liberty rooting section came in followed by the liberty reserves. Needless to say I let my camera fly. It was really a beautiful thing I did not anticipate seeing: a mosh-pit of all cultures and creeds living the dream. That is why we play sports. That is why we play soccer.
I can't emphasize the huge congrats to both teams. Without the incredible effort Freedom put forth, Liberty's moment would be anti-climatic. Both teams can build off this nicely as I am sure the coaches have preached. Although I can't imagine Round 2 of this rivalry later this year can top this. I’ll make sure my son gets to see it just in case.
PS - Both schools rooting clubs really took the passion and intensity of the game to another level. One I was not expecting and for the most part that was certainly a good thing. Without those clubs there, this game winning moment would not have been nearly as big as it was. I have a lot of respect for that. However, I'd be lying to myself, if I pretended some of the heckling did not cross a racial line that made the beautiful game ugly IMHO real fast. Heckling is an art form to be sure. There is a fine line between clever and downright nasty. I can guarantee you that suggesting you are a better human being than another human being because of your ethnicity easily falls into the category of nasty. Soccer is as diverse as it gets. Don't disrespect the game much less the person. Be better than that next time and work harder on being clever!