ONE BIG STAT! – Gameweek 3

ONE BIG STAT is back, and this time it means business. FPL Gameweek 3 had some seriously weird crap, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something. Let’s learn this crap:

Aston Villa vs Everton

Everton’s shots were weird, and so is their offense

Everton took 12 shots. Gylfi Sigurdsson, Richarlison, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin combined for just 3 of them. Alex Iwobi & Theo Walcott were second-half subs for two of those guys, and they also had 3 shots (and Everton’s best scoring chances). The other 6 shots came from defenders or defensive mids. This does not seem ideal. How much longer can FPL managers wait for Everton to sort this out? Where are Richarlison’s goals? Can Gylfi get back to his top-10-or-so creative form from last season? 1 goal in 3 matches isn’t going to cut it in real life or FPL life, and if Moise Kean isn’t the answer, then who or what is?

Norwich City vs Chelsea

Emerson (£5.5) – 31 Bonus Points System score

Yes, the Pukki Riot rolls on. Hopefully, either ONE BIG STAT or his 5 goals helped you add him to your FPL squad in the last two weeks. But today, we shift the focus to Emerson’s BPS score. (If you don’t know about FPL bonus points, read this.) In a nutshell, Emerson was extremely close to getting a bonus point in this match despite the fact that he had no attacking returns, and the Chelsea defense allowed 2 goals. His BPS score of 31 was the same as Mateo Kovačić (who had an assist), and it was 5 points higher than Todd Cantwell (who scored a goal). Emerson is doing it all so far this season except, you know, getting you FPL points. But those points are coming, surely...

Sheffield United vs Leicester City

MIXED BAG!

Have some Sheffield & Leicester observations:

Ayoze Pérez (£6.4) has the same number of shots as Jamie Vardy (£8.9) so far this season – just 3. John Lundstram (£4.2), FPL’s early-season defensive darling, leads all Blades in shots (5) and shots on target (2). And add another assist for James Maddison (£7.0). If you’re one of the 17% of FPL owners with Anthony Martial, why not swap to King (Power) James? He’s taken the most corners (21) and attempted the most dribbles (11) of anyone in the Premier League, and his 4 shots in this match give him 10 total for the season, good for 6th overall. Bournemouth is up next, and there have been 8 goals in last 2 matches between these two. Seems like easy money, folks.

Manchester United vs Crystal Palace

Wilfried Zaha (£6.9) – 10 Penalty Area Touches

While Marcus Rashford’s missed penalty and the injuries to Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw were the most FPL-significant issues, I’d like to say “So what?” and then highlight Wilfried Zaha’s performance. He looked better here, finishing with 10 touches inside of 18 yards, 2 of which were shots, and it was a very Classic Zaha bit of dribbling that preceded Patrick van Aanholt’s match winner. Palace’s upcoming fixtures are friendly enough that Zaha should be back on FPL radars.

Brighton vs Southampton

Leandro Trossard (£6.0) – SEVEN key passes

If you’ve listened to our podcast, you know my feelings about Brighton. They’re similar to the feelings you have about real seagulls when they’re actually swarming near you and your real snacks at the actual beach. However, even I can’t deny Leandro Trossard’s look in his two starts so far. I really can’t deny his 7 key passes here, which ties him for 10th in the Premier League. Plus, he took 4 of Brighton’s 8 corners. These are the stats that lead to FPL points, so after they play City, why not take a shot on a guy owned less than 1%?

Watford vs West Ham

Gerard Deulofeu (£6.3) – 7 shots

I listened to my own advice and added Manuel Lanzini last week, and I hope you did, too. While he was excellent, and very close to 2 real assists in addition to the FPL assist he got, I’d like to turn your attention to Gerard Deulofeu. His penalty area touch map looks like chicken pox — disgusting, red, and 13 touches to be exact, 5 of which were shots. He finished with 7 total shots, one of which hit the crossbar early in the first half of the match. He was getting over sickness in week 1, and he’s looked dangerous ever since. Why can’t he get his first returns against Newcastle this weekend?

Liverpool vs Arsenal

Nicolas Pepe (£9.4) – 7 dribbles

Bow! Bow before your new dribbling king! While some may mock Pepe’s one-footedness here, the fact is he stole the spotlight for the Gunners. His 7 dribbles in the match included THE dribble — the one past Virgil van Dijk — that made him the first player to do so in VVD’s last 50 matches. Too bad Pepe couldn’t have finished his one-on-one against Simon Mignolet Loris Karius a human pylon Adrian, or else FPL managers might be putting that .1 back into his price this week. A good performance in the North London Derby, and Pepe’s price could skyrocket, especially with Arsenal’s outstanding fixture list between September and mid-December.

Bournemouth vs Manchester City

Manchester City’s shots – 15 of 19 in the penalty area

“Wow,” you say sarcastically, as you gently daub the clown paint on your cheeks and then lower the clown wig onto your head, “this is the stat that finally changes my mind about Manchester City.” The fact is, over 22% of FPL managers are spending at least £6 to have Ederson, and I think this deserves a rethink, at least to open up the spot for a City defender, if not another attacker. With their 15 shots in the box against the Cherries, City have now taken 40 of their 63 total shots in the box, a higher percentage (63%) than they had through three matches last season (55%). Healthy Kevin De Bruyne might have something to do with this, but either way, what’s the downside to maximizing City attackers?

Wolves vs Burnley

Dwight McNeil (£6.0) – 7 crosses

While we’re likely to be treated to a sub-standard Wolves team that plays to 1-1 draws all season, it seems like we’re going to get above-average Burnley back! Ashley Barnes is the headliner and an obvious value pick right now, but don’t overlook Dwight McNeil. He had his moments last season, and it seems like he’ll have more of those moments this season. He supplied 9 crosses in the match, giving him 20 overall for the season (tied for 7th with Lucas Digne and Oliver Norwood). You know who he’s crossing to, and with 2 assists already, you know he can improve on his 3 goal, 4 assist total from last season. With improving fixtures on the way and just 0.4% ownership, he could be a big differential.

Tottenham vs Newcastle

Spurs offensive players – just 2 shots on target

Yes, just like we all expected, Spurs got shut out at home against Newcastle. We’re all just rolling around on the money we made from that bet, looking like Jamaal Lascelles rolling in front of Harry Kane. While we revel in that, let’s marvel at the Spurs’ high-powered offense managing just 2 shots on target. Both of those came from Son, the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal day. Tottenham is now 10th in the league in shots on target with 11 — just one shot more than the lowly, lowly offenses of tiny clubs like Brighton, Southampton, and Manchester United. The Eriksen saga isn’t helping, but with Son, Dele, and Ndombele all likely back in for the North London Derby, hopefully they can turn things around.

Those are some big stats! Let’s hope they point you in the right direction. Good luck to everyone in Gameweek 4!

ONE BIG STAT! – Gameweek 2

It’s time for One Big Stat, the good looking Fantasy Premier League article that plays by its own rules! What went down in Gameweek 2? Several interesting things, up to and including:

Arsenal vs Burnley

Dani Ceballos (£5.6) – 7 recoveries

Gooners & FPL fans found something to love about Arsenal’s midfield for pretty much the first time since Alexis Sanchez was there. Dani Ceballos might as well have ascended straight off the pitch and into Arsene Wenger’s bosom after his performance against Burnley on Saturday. Of all his great match stats, however, his 7 recoveries must be making Arsenal fan shirts just a little tighter this week. (Oh, Mesut, why couldn’t you just track back a little more??) True, recoveries aren’t directly worth fantasy points, but it’s easily one of the highlights of his man-of-the-match performance and surely cements his spot in the Arsenal starting lineup. Ceballos’ low-end price tag, assured starts in a potent offense, and game-changing creativity should be enough to tempt nearly every FPL manager this week.

Aston Villa vs Bournemouth

Jack Grealish (£6.0) – 6 key passes

He may not be able to win a top-tier match, but no one can say that Jack Grealish isn’t trying. His assist was mostly the work of Douglas Luiz’s (£4.5) right boot, but that perfectly placed setup was just one of the 6 key passes Jack made in the match. He now has 8 key passes this season, 2nd only to Kevin De Bruyne. John McGinn’s lower price (£5.6) may be more appealing, but Villa’s schedule between now and mid-October makes either player worth a look in your FPL midfield.

Bonus Stat Because Wolves vs Manchester United Was Pretty Straightforward!

Ahmed El Mohamady (£4.5) – 3 Bonus Points

Who received maximum FPL bonus points in a match that ended 2-1, with all goals and assists coming from only midfielders and strikers? OF COURSE it was defender El Mohamady, who is currently 7th on FPL’s ICT Index. It was a stat sheet-busting, man-of-the-match-quality performance for Ahmed. He gets the same schedule as the rest of the Villans...

Brighton vs West Ham

Manuel Lanzini (£6.5) – 5 successful dribbles

The Little Jewel looks like he’s 100% healthy, which is great for him and his injury-magnet club. Lanzini’s assist and 3 FPL bonus points vs Brighton were largely the result of his 5 dribbles. He now has 8 total for the season, tied for 2nd overall with Anthony Martial. Ponder this: In 2016-17, he completed 88 dribbles, 5th best in the league. It was also his best FPL season — 8 goals, 2 assists, and 133 fantasy points. In 2017-18, he was 15th in dribbles despite missing almost a third of the season — and still finished with 5 goals, 7 assists, and 106 fantasy points. This West Ham squad is arguably the most talented they’ve had in years, and Lanzini is fit and motivated to play a lot of matches this season. If he does, he could embarrass his previous FPL bests and his £6.5 price tag.

Everton vs Watford

Lucas Digne (£6.0) – 1 early substitution due to injury

What? Would you rather talk about how Everton has only allowed 4 total shots on target so far, or that Deulofeu looked a little better this week? Not a lot else happened here. Digne’s substitution seems to have been precautionary, and 24% of FPL managers are less sweaty because he was back in training on Wednesday.

Norwich City vs Newcastle

Teemu Pukki (£6.8) – 6 shots on target

Newcastle seem to be in a bit of trouble, and Teemu Pukki single-footedly kicked them there. And while Todd Cantwell (£4.5) is definitely worth an FPL look (listen to our podcast this week), and Emil Buendia (£6.0) was statistically excellent again, Pukki is the only story here. He put 6 of his 7 shots on target in this match, and 7 of his 10 total shots so far this season have been on target. He probably won’t shoot 70% all year, but those numbers are no fluke — he hit the target with 57 of his 101 shots in the Championship in 2017-18. You can’t spell “Kick FPL Butt” without “Pukki,” so you might as well ride the train while it’s running.

Southampton vs Liverpool

Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.0) – 14 crosses

Let’s try to forget about Adrian’s blunder that cost about 75% of the FPL world a clean sheet and focus on Trent Alexander-Arnold’s 14 crosses in the match. It brings his season total to 22, tied with Leicester’s James Maddison (£7.0) for the most in the Premier League.

Think On This:

TAA has attempted 88 passes so far this season — which means 25% of them have been aimed at someone in goal scoring range. Yes, Liverpool’s shaky defense and their lack of clean sheets is dumb. But I don’t think TAA should be the third most transferred out defender in FPL this week given his attacking stats so far, especially as they prepare to face an Arsenal defense that 1.) still isn’t good and 2.) has already faced 27 shots this season, 5th most in the Premier League. Clean sheet? Doubtful. Attacking returns? Not a bad bet.

Manchester City vs Tottenham

Kyle Walker (£6.0) – 2 key passes

“Wow. Great stat to choose from such an exciting match,” you say sarcastically, as you wear your favorite clown nose, with a rather large piece of spinach stuck to your front tooth, and as a pigeon relieves itself on your head. First, it’s the same number that Raheem Sterling had in the match, so bite me. Second, and most importantly, perhaps you’ve noticed that Kyle Walker is looking positively spry this season. Maybe it’s Pep pushing him, maybe it’s Cancelo’s arrival, or maybe it’s a little of both. The fact is, Kyle now has a total of 4 key passes. Last season? He had 24 total in 33 appearances, and didn’t register his first key pass until week six in City’s 5-0 thrashing of Cardiff. It’s progress, and it could be a sign of FPL goodness in City’s upcoming run of favorable fixtures.

Sheffield United vs Crystal Palace

Buy John Lundstrom (£4.1) if you don’t have him already

It’s nice when things are this obvious. Crystal Palace is a mess right now, and Sheffield’s schedule is mostly terrible until the end of November. There’s just too much risk with Enda Stevens, Dean Henderson, or any of the other Sheffield assets.

Chelsea vs Leicester

Corner Kicks – James Maddison (£7.0) and Mason Mount (£6.1)

Two players took the majority of the corner kicks in this match. I’ll bet you can guess which ones. Maddison took all 5 Leicester corners, and Mount took 3 of Chelsea’s 4 corners. Mads leads the league with 17, but perhaps surprisingly, Mount’s 8 corners ties him with Trent Alexander-Arnold for 8th best in the league. It’s just a nice little reinforcement of the FPL appeal for both players.

DON’T FORGET:

Aston Villa vs Everton kicks off on Friday, so don’t forget to set your lineups. Good luck in Gameweek 2, everyone!

When FPL Fun Crosses the Line

Our latest podcast episode has been recorded, and I’m already losing sleep over something I said. That’s what happens when you lose the balance between the power of the microphone and the responsibility that comes with that power.

VAR debuted in the Premier League this past weekend, so of course, we talked about it. I feel very strongly about VAR being a good and necessary thing, and I have been expressing that opinion at every opportunity.

I also feel very strongly about in-game announcing. You see, there was a time when my dream was to be a sports broadcaster. I dabbled a little in college, covering some baseball and softball games for my alma mater. I later explored the possibility of an unpaid internship with the local minor league baseball team. When my wife and I learned we were pregnant with our first child, however, an unpaid internship wasn’t going to work. I was going to have to chase my dream another way.

In part, that is what this podcast has provided me - an audio forum through which to express my love for sports, specifically soccer. The podcast allows me — requires me, really — to watch a lot of soccer so that I know what I’m talking about. And in watching soccer, I listen to a lot of announcing.

Which brings me back to our most recent podcast episode.

In watching the first round of Premier League matches, one thing seemed pretty clear to me. VAR is ready for prime time. It was polished and ready and used to good effect. And yet, something still seemed a little off.

But it wasn’t VAR. It was TV.

The TV broadcast is not yet equipped to fully incorporate VAR into its product. The same old announcers that have been calling matches for years struggled to know how to discuss it at times. They struggled to make predictions and provide insights as to what the VAR official was reviewing.

In other words, VAR was ready for the league. TV, however, was not ready for VAR.

This is what my rant on our podcast was about. VAR has definitely changed the league. That much was immediately obvious to everybody. Since change is hard, some people are opposed to it — or at the very least, predisposed to look at the change in a negative light.

But I didn’t care. In a moment, with the microphone in front of me, I went off. I blasted away at how TV needed to do more to make VAR less like the crazy uncle that has been invited into your home for the holidays and more like a loved and welcomed (and permanent) member of the family. I took it even further and named names, Lee Dixon and Graeme Le Saux.

Dixon and Le Saux have been a part of the NBC Sports crew since the network began airing Premier League matches in the United States. I love what NBC has done for the Premier League. Its coverage is always so good. Arlo White is, in my opinion, the best soccer announcer in the world. For the last couple of years, however, I have felt like Dixon and Le Saux have held him back.

Dixon and Le Saux tend to discuss their opinions more than anything else, including tactics and the application of the laws of the game to the action on the pitch. It’s frustrating for me, someone who would love to have their job and thinks that he, with some practice, could actually do it.

Plus, Le Saux was pretty critical of VAR over the weekend. And so, in a flash, all of that came together in a rant that was semi-coherent and entirely critical of what I consider to be old, out-of-touch announcers, naming Dixon and Le Saux in particular.

It was over the line. I feel so strongly that it was over the line that I lost sleep last night, asked Dave to edit some of it out so you never hear it, and typed out this post as a way to clear my conscience. Additionally, because one of the greatest commands in life is to “love your neighbor as yourself,” I asked — and ask now — for forgiveness.

Here’s the reality: Dixon and Le Saux are big boys with amazing jobs that give them a platform in front of millions. I am a co-host of a fledgling podcast with a fraction of that audience. They can handle my criticism.

Regardless, I want to be responsible with the platform I have. You want helpful FPL takes in an entertaining format. I want to provide that. Along the way, we have the ability to express strong opinions on relevant topics, but there is a line that we should not cross. I don’t want to be that kind of guy, that kind of podcast host, who does that.

So this is me, learning from my mistakes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try to get some sleep. But it will be hard. I’m already excited for Gameweek 2.

Scott's Shot - Lessons Learned from the 2018/19 FPL Season

In this edition of Scott’s Shot, Scott shares what he learned in his relegation-worthy 2018/19 FPL season and how he will attempt to improve for the upcoming 2019/20 season.

If you prefer to read a transcript of what Scott has to say, you can find that by scrolling down below the Soundcloud insert.

Fantasy sports are designed to enhance a fan's following of a sports league -- a way to participate with the league that he or she wants to watch. When it comes to Fantasy Premier League, the participation seems more real. The length of the season is grueling; it really is a mental grind.

That was never more real for me than this past season. In the 2017/18 season, I had the season of my life. I'm still pretty new to FPL, and I've never really been great at fantasy sports in general, but I finished in the top 0.4% of all players that season. Nothing was hard. All of my decisions came out right. It was a little magical.

However, leading into the 2018/19 season, that magical feeling was a little misleading. I mistook the magic for skill. I'm no longer sure that's what it was.

I got off to a horrible start. I thought I had a good team for the first few weeks of the season, but I was wrong. I played my first half wildcard during the first international break. Not a problem, I assured myself...and you, if you were listening to our podcast at that time. I can right the ship with the wildcard and then use my free transfers to replenish my team as needed for the rest of the way.

The wildcard didn't work either. It was a classic case of having the right players at the wrong time. Leroy Sane seemed like a no-brainer to own at the start, but then he barely played for the first four matches. I transferred him out in my flurry of wildcard moves, and he immediately scored a goal.

This is when I believe I started to make my first major mistakes. I broke my rules. I took a few -4s to try to get my team where I needed it to be. I had no anchors in my squad -- guys who I would stick with all season long because, in the end, their overall points would justify it. I started to use matchups to try to hit the lottery with my transfers. It never worked.

I felt for the first time what a relegation-threatened club feels. I mean, I think I did. There's a negativity that creeps into everything you do. You doubt all of your decisions. When clubs seemingly overreact and sack their managers early in the season, I get that now, too. The relegation zone is like quicksand. Once you get sucked down, it's hard to get yourself out.

Meanwhile, as the season progresses and nothing is going right, Dave is succeeding with this new strategy of his. He's using team value to guide his decisions. His theory is that a higher team value will give him the money he needs to get better players and win at the end of the season.

This is where I demonstrate to you just how terrible of a person I am. I like to think that I'm a pretty smart person. But here's Dave, using statistics to try to get better while I'm having the worst season of my life. It felt...wrong. It sent my already awful season into full-on tailspin mode. Was last season just a fluke? Is this an accurate reflection of my FPL skill? Is this what Burnley feels like right now?

It made me think about baseball. Baseball is in the midst of an evolution right before our eyes. Infield and outfield shifts, closers starting games, and statistics like exit velocity are changing the way the game is played. What started with Moneyball many years ago has turned into a total statistical-based evolution of the game.

Any time there's progress, the proponents of the old system who are unwilling to adapt with the times are left behind. Old-school baseball scouts, for instance, are mostly unemployed. Was this me? Did I use any strategy when I won in 17/18? Or was it just dumb luck?

Is Dave's strategy right? As last season progressed, I constantly felt shackled by the team's value. I couldn't make the moves others could because my team value stayed stagnant. Was this why I won in 17/18, and I had no idea?

Probably. At least a little bit. We are now halfway through the summer, and my thoughts on this are still pretty unclear. Do I willingly fall down the FPL statistical rabbit hole? Is that the future? Is that a progressive approach? Am I just a stodgy old white dude unwilling to change with the times who will eventually be left behind?

I don't know. Here's something I did learn last year, though. The season builds on itself. The longer you go into the season, the more influence it has on the final outcome for you. I know that sounds obvious, but when you are at the bottom of your mini-league, it becomes painfully -- yes, painfully -- apparent.

It's really easy for us to zoom in on one week, but every year, we find ourselves surprised at some of the players who were rarely spectacular but always consistent throughout the season and ended up with more points than most. If we can remember that, however, and keep those guys all year long -- barring injury or benching -- we will make our jobs a lot easier.

Everyone plays everybody else twice. The only variable is timing. If we can remember that, too, then maybe we will stop trying to win the lottery based on matchups so much.

After that, team value is important. You need money to make moves. Dave and I still vary as to how we'll handle value. I won't sell my anchor players if they are going to experience temporary drops in value, unless I have a bigger reason to do so (benching, injury, etc.).

I have always waited until Friday to make my free transfer. I figure that, with more time in the week, I will be armed with more information about who I want to send in and out. However, that feels like an old-school approach. I think I need to be more flexible about that. Value changes are important when it comes to free transfers. Since the values change throughout the week and not just on Friday, I need to be willing to make changes sooner.

I'm sticking with my anchors this season. And I'm not taking -4s anymore. I won't panic, but I will evolve as I need to. That's my plan for 2019/20 season. I hope it works. It certainly can't get any worse than last season.

Scott's Shot - Tales from a Sunday Soccer League: Episode 1

On this episode, Scott begins a special summer series on his adventures in a 6-match summer league. If you prefer to read what happens, scroll down below the Soundcloud insert to find the full manuscript.

It was a moment of weakness; that's really all I can say to describe it. I was with two friends and each of our wives. One friend declared that he was going to play soccer in this local summer league. The other friend said he has never played soccer before but that he was interested in joining, too.

What about Scott, they asked? My wife thought it would be a great idea. She could get the kids to come and watch and cheer for me. They would love to do that. Plus, maybe you could turn it into some content for the podcast.

In my moment of weakness, I agreed to do it. I joined a team of 25 dudes for a 6-match summer league. I didn't know anyone except my two friends.

The captain said that we should meet for practice on Wednesday nights at a local park. On the night of the first practice, I knew that my two friends wouldn't be joining me, so I was nervous. As I went to leave, rain started to fall. Three of my children wanted to come to my practice, and they were very disappointed when I told them I wasn't going due to the rain. How much of that decision was rain and how much was fear...it's hard to say.

Unfortunately for me, the rain stopped right after it started. The guys were definitely still going to meet for practice. Reluctantly, I decided to go.

I didn't know anyone, but our team name was going to be something with "misfits" in it. So as I approached the field and saw some guys kicking around a ball, I declared that I was looking for some misfits. A few guys laughed. I was now on the team.

The first guy to introduce himself to me was Kenny. He asked me about when I last played soccer. Oh, it's been a really long time since I've played, I said. Oh yeah, when was the last time, he asked. A long time ago, I said.

If that seems like it would have been awkward, it was. I didn't want to tell him that the last time I'd played organized soccer was at the age of 7. I grew up in a farming community in Minnesota. There was a recreational league one summer that allowed kids between five and seven to play. It was mostly a way for parents to have a night off each week when school was out.

I was pretty good in that little league. The highlight was during the season-ending party when the kids played against their parents. I scored a goal. It was only recently that I've come to realize that they might have let me score.

I didn't want to tell Kenny any of this. Our awkward conversation ended, and I went to join the boys already practicing. We started out scrimmaging so that we could all get a feel for who belongs where. One of my first touches was a soft backpass to a teammate that went to one of my opponents instead. It led to a goal. So that's how that happens, I thought to myself.

A little later, I made a run toward the far post that a teammate saw. He sent in a cross. All I had to do was guide it into the goal with my right foot. I did, sort of. I kicked the ball with my right foot into my left knee. My left knee deflected it into the net. It was a piece of accidental beauty.

For every decent touch, I had 2-3 horrible ones. I had a couple of swings and misses. A couple of times I was delivered a pass that got by me and went out of bounds. It was rough overall but a lot of fun.

Our second practice was this past Wednesday. It was more of the same. I had another backpass that led to a breakaway for the opposition. I really need to work on that. I have absolutely no skills around the goal right now. This fact is very sad because I've noticed that I have a knack for the mental part of the game. It turns out that watching the Premier League for years has helped me recognize where to make runs. The problem is that I have no skill with the ball when I get it. Occasionally, I can send a nice pass forward to a streaking teammate, but that's about it.

There's one other thing I'm terrible at: talking to my teammates on the field. This team I'm on is mostly made up of former soccer players who are out of school and are just looking for a way to keep playing. Most of them played center forward, which is a different problem that we will have to solve before our first match.

My point, though, is that they have all played before and they know how to talk to their teammates on the pitch. The first time someone behind me said "drop" while I had the ball, I had no idea what they were trying to communicate. I know now that he was letting me know I could drop the ball back to him if I got into trouble, but it took me a while to get there.

There was this one time on defense where an opponent was coming forward with the ball and another opposing player was starting to make a forward run. "You've got runner. I've got ball," my teammate said to me. After starting to move toward the ball, I realized what he said. By then, it was too late. The pass went to the runner. I don't remember if it led to a goal. Probably it did.

When practice ended and we were walking to our cars, I found myself walking with the team captain, Clyde. I was hoping for this moment because I had decided that I needed to take a risk. I told him that I would be happy to play a position that nobody else wanted, like left back. Might be a good idea anyway, I said, since I've never played soccer before. Really, he asked. I had no idea, he said. You have such nice passes. I appreciate that, I said. I made some lame joke about everyone else being a center forward and the conversation ended.

I immediately regretted saying that. This is just a recreational league, but I didn't exactly inspire confidence in my captain. Only time will tell me if my confession was a mistake.