“Taylor taps the ball to Schmidt and goes forward . . . Schmidt passes back to Pearson . . . Danny Pearson dribbles to his right and boots a lovely ball toTaylor. TayLOR! Oh! What a strike! What a beauty! Top corner! Brilliant! Majestic! EZ Taylor has put the Baptists on the scoreboard! The Gooners are stunned!”
The StrikerZ laughed hysterically each time Lukas Schmidt relived the game by announcing the play-by-play in his best British accent. Even EZ howled, although he had been there and done it. The reaction of his friends was too much.
EZ stretched his tall, wiry frame and looked over his neighbourhood team that he'd been leading for three years now, since he was ten. Besides EZ, there were Lukas, Danny, Milan, Jose, Maddie, Logan, Zach, Tommy, Mario, and Bandit. Eleven. Just like soccer!
Lukas, who looked like he could be EZ's brother, and Danny, dark-haired and shorter, were EZ’s best friends.
On Saturday mornings, the StrikerZ usually played a game against each other, but today they just kicked the ball around as they hung out and waited.
“What else did you guys get to do at camp?” asked Milan.
“Tons of stuff,” answered Lukas. “Canoeing, treasure hunts, archery, campfires, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows.” He patted his stomach. “All that delicious food — Mmmm!”
Everyone licked their lips and moaned half-jokingly about the great campfire food.
“Dude, that sounds so cool,” said Jose. “I hope I get to go next year.”
As EZ listened to his friends, he kept an eye up Hudson Street, waiting for Fred Jones to appear. He reached into his right front jeans’ pocket and felt the business card, again. His fingertips brushed the embossed lettering.
The wind suddenly picked up, and the colourful flags that surrounded the school grounds waved in the breeze. Central Elementary School, which was directly across the street from the field, was all roped off. EZ continued to turn and look toward his left — from the school to the Low Rentals, and down Hudson Street. The blue-green ocean was choppy on this early September day.
This was EZ’s hood in New Waterford, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Except for short trips, like summer camp, it was all he had ever known. EZ’s real name was Diego, but he didn’t like it. His friends had nicknamed him ‘EZ’ a couple of years ago because he made difficult plays look so ‘easy.’ He loved his new name and no one dared call him Diego anymore — well, except for his dad and teachers who didn’t know him.
“Just make sure you get your name in early next year,” commented EZ, returning his attention to the guys. “Me, Lukas and Danny just got lucky this year.”
“Lucky is right,” agreed Zach. “I wish I’d been there to cream those wimps!” The StrikerZ cracked up again.
EZ remembered backto the big game at camp. He was sure glad that Lukas and Danny had gone with him. Who would have guessed that the Baptists would get challenged to a soccer ‘friendly’ by another youth group who also had their camp at Bras d’Or Lake?
The guys had been at camp for less than a week — and didn’t really know the other kids — so they decided to view the game from the side. Lots of fans from both camps came to watch on the scorching August afternoon. There were seven players on each team, on a grass field with real goals.
EZ could tell by their normal camp clothes that the Baptist team was just playing for fun, but that the visitors were ready for action with matching red t-shirts and cool cleats. The red team, who called themselves the ‘Gunners,’ were all boys about thirteen years old, but the Baptist team had mostly younger kids around eleven, including two girls.
It was a nice, fun game at first. But then the Gunners turned it up a notch and began to hot-dog it. 3-0. 4-0. 5-0. It wasn't just that they were running up the score; it was the way they were doing it: showing off — high-fives — laughing.
The Gunners — what a bunch of morons, thought EZ. Sometimes the Gunners would get close to scoring a goal, but would then dribble and pass it back to their own end, on purpose. They were just toying with the Baptist team, who, after the fifth goal, looked tired and frustrated.
One kid named Chad was really rubbing it in. A legend in his own mind, thought EZ.
He felt the heat rising in his cheeks, and it wasn’t the blistering sun. After scoring another goal, Chad ran close to the sideline where EZ stood. EZ pretended that he was coming into the game. He stepped onto the field and kicked Chad’s rear foot, causing him to trip and land on his butt. Lots of kids laughed. “Sorry,” EZ said with a grin.
“Hey!” Chad cried, as he scowled up at EZ. “Watch your feet, idiot.”
EZ crouched down, and, with his face close to Chad’s, he said, “Let’s play some football, punk.”
EZ raised and spun around to Lukas and Danny. “C’mon, boys.” He called to Crystal and offered to sub himself in for her.
“Thanks, EZ,” she said, as they passed each other. “They seem like real jerks. It’s totally not fun. All we’re doing is running around like idiots and getting sweaty.”
Lukas and Danny also found a couple of kids to sub in for. Just as they all got on the field — SMASH! — the Gunners made the game 6-0. As EZ went to get the ball, he whispered loudly to Lukas and Danny, “C’mon, StrikerZ!”
A smile crept across the boys' faces. “Yeah,” Lukas and Danny repeated. “C’mon, StrikerZ!” They knocked fists.
EZ dribbled the ball close to half and placed it under his right foot. Lukas came up beside him, and they both glared at the Gunners, who were laughing at the new members of the Baptistteam.
“If there’s one thing I can’t stand, Luke,” EZ said, “it’s spoiled little punks showing off and rubbing it in. Let’s teach these wannabes something about football.”
“I’m with you, Captain,” replied Lukas.
Lukas turned back and gave a thumbs-up to Danny, who returned it. They were ready.
“Hit me dead centre, on the run,” EZ said. He tapped the ball to Lukas and vaporized across the field. As Lukas kicked it back to Danny, EZ sliced through the Gunners’ defence. Danny booted a long pass that took one hop and hit EZ in full stride. BLAST! The ball ripped into the netting — after shaving the keeper! The goalkeeper for the Gunners yelped and hopped and grabbed his left ear with his big glove.
The smiles were wiped from the faces of the Gunners.
“6-1, punks!” said EZ defiantly, as he jogged back to his side of the field.
“Nice blast!” exclaimed Danny, as the trio knocked fists.
“Dudes, do you know how they say Gunners in England?” Lukas asked his two friends.
“How?” asked Danny.
“Really?” asked EZ. “Gooners? Hilarious!”
The three friends chuckled and got ready.
The Gunners became serious and made a few smooth passes, but when a player dribbled close to Danny, he stole the ball and kicked it to Lukas. Lukas raced down the left side like a laser beam. As the Gunners chased him, he lifted a curling cross to EZ, who leaped high into the air and drilled the ball with his forehead. WHACK! “That's 6-2,” EZ stated on the way back.
EZ heard clapping from the Baptist fans and from the rest of the Baptist team. He smiled. On their next trip down the field, the Gunners lost possession as Lukas lightened the ball carrier and booted the sphere to EZ on the right. EZ dribbled toward the corner. As almost the entire Gunners’ team pursued him, he eyed Danny racing up the middle and slotted a pass to him from the side of his foot. Danny broke in on the keeper, made his killer crossover move, and back-heeled to Lukas. Lukas was wide open and buried the ball into the gaping goal. RIP! 6-3!
EZ heard even bigger applause, hooting and whistling coming from the fans.
Chad began to criticize his teammates, causing the Gunners to argue among themselves and make more errant passes. They were coming apart at the seams.
A few minutes later, EZ received the ball from Danny at midfield and dribbled through the rest of the Gunners team himself. The terrified keeper turtled as EZ bolted toward him, so EZ just smoked a howitzer into the empty goal. 6-4!
“What’s wrong with you guys?!” Chad hollered at his teammates. “Get up you coward!” he screamed at the keeper.
EZ, Lukas and Danny slapped high-fives and knocked fists as they strolled past the frustrated Gunners. Suddenly the Gunners made some excuses about having to go back to their camp “because it was getting late.” The game was over.
As the players from both teams walked past each other, Chad addressed EZ, Lukas and Danny. “Good game, guys.”
One of Chad’s friends said, “Let it go, Chad.”
“Rigghht,” EZ replied, sensing that the compliment was not sincere.
Chad examined the trios’ worn out sneakers and ragged clothing. “So . . . where do you dudes get your cool clothes from ― The Salvation Army?”
EZ tensed up and glared at Chad, as his right hand curled into a fist.
“He’s not worth it, EZ,” muttered Lukas, grabbing EZ's arm. Danny put a hand on EZ's shoulder.
“What’s your problem, moron?” asked EZ.
EZ and Chad stood face to face, as the kids on both teams struggled to keep them apart. EZ towered over the smiling Chad.
“I like to shop at the Gap myself,” mocked Chad.
“If you keep yapping like that you’re going to have a gap in your teeth!” snapped EZ. He broke free and pushed Chad backwards.
Both teams intervened again, and the Gunners left the field. EZ knocked fists with his two friends, and the three of them smiled at each other. “Punks!” whispered EZ, watching the Gunners and their fans leave camp.
The Baptist players and fans rushed to the three soccer phenoms and showered them with praise. “Who do you guys play for?” one of the younger kids asked.
“No one,” EZ answered. “We just play in our hood — for fun.”
“Wow,” said another smiling boy. “You guys are awesome!” The two kids then attempted to knock fists, as they had seen their heroes do. EZ, Lukas and Danny laughed.
That night at the campfire, the younger kids brought the new stars marshmallows and told them that the whole camp was still buzzing over the game. EZ, Lukas and Danny found it hilarious. The three friends sat on logs in front of the fire and roasted the treats.
As they were interacting with the kids, EZ noticed a tall, black man walk over and sit down on a large log. The smaller kids left, and the three StrikerZ and the man smiled at each other. He was carrying a trimmed twig, which he poked into a marshmallow and held over the fire.
“Hello, guys,” he said with a deep voice. “I’m Fred Jones.”
“Hi,” said each of the boys.
“I saw the game today. You guys are excellent soccer players. Where’re you from?”
“We’re from New Waterford,” replied EZ. “I'm EZ. As in 'E' 'Zee'.”
His two friends also introduced themselves.
“I grew up in Whitney Pier, but I now live in Sydney,” explained Fred. “I come to camp every summer with my wife Eileen. We’ve been coming for five years now.”
“This is our first year,” stated EZ. “The church runs a youth club in New Waterford, and every summer three kids from our hood get to go.”
“Good,” said Fred nodding. “Did I hear right — that you guys don't play in a league?”
“Yeah, that's right,” answered Lukas.
“But we play all the time,” added Danny.
“We call ourselves the StrikerZ,” said EZ, “with a ‘Z’ ending instead of an ‘S.’”
“Well, that's a fantastic name: The StrikerZ. Has a ring to it. Do you have any shirts made up with StrikerZ on them?” Fred continued to roast his marshmallows.
EZ glanced at Fred, studying his short, slightly balding hair. He looked like he hadn’t shaved in a day or two. EZ thought that Fred, who wore a blue polo shirt, long tan shorts and sandals, was about fifty years old.
“No,” answered Lukas, “but someone spray-painted the name on the fence beside the field where we play. It looks totally cool!”
“Oh, I would like to see that,” said Fred. “Do you think I could come sometime and watch a game and see the fence painting?”
“Sure, Fred,” replied EZ. “But I'll have to check with the other guys and stuff.”
“Sure,” agreed Fred. “How about if I give you my card, and you get your mom or dad to give me a call?”
Fred reached into his wallet and handed EZ his business card.
“I'll give it to my dad,” said EZ, as he studied it. The lettering reflected the fire’s light. After another minute, Fred rose up to leave.
“Okay, guys, nice to have met you. We’re leaving camp tomorrow, but I hope to see you again soon. Don't forget to give your dad my card, EZ,” said Fred, smiling and pointing at him.
“I won't, Fred,” answered EZ.
After Fred left, EZ remarked, “That was cool. I wonder why he’s so interested in us.”
Lukas and Danny huddled closer to EZ, inspecting the card.
“Fred Jones Consulting,” whispered Lukas. “In gold lettering . . . he’s gotta be rich!”