The way some jobs come to you seems to defy belief. That is how I feel about the opportunity I got to photograph soccer for the Canada National Soccer Association. Last June I got a phone call from a friend of mine whom I knew through Ultimate. Michael who also happens to work for the Tampa Bay Rowdies gave the Canada Soccer Association my name when they asked if they knew anyone that could photograph for the U-17 women’s team at IMG in Bradenton. Clearly I said yes let’s do this.
That first tournament for them went really well. I was ecstatic with the images I was able to capture for them. I got to watch the ladies finish 3rd in the tournament and qualify for their World Cup the next year. That is becoming a trend, but I’ll get to that shortly. I guess I wasn’t the only one really happy with the images. September comes rolling around and I get another email from Canada. This time asking if I was able to photograph the Men’s national team. Big deal. These are the best of the best for Canada. It was only a one match kind of thing but still a big deal to me. Not only because it was the Men’s national team, but because now this was a repeat customer. Possibly one of the coolest repeat customers. After that match I hadn’t thought much about Canada soccer as I didn’t know they were coming back to IMG anytime soon. That changed early last week.
May 5th I got an email asking if I was able to photograph some matches for Canada’s U-17 mens team. They are competing in the Concacaf tournament. The top 3 I believe) teams in this tournament qualify for their World Cup in Brazil. I covered a match for them on Friday. It was an interesting game. The game started early, I presume to try to avoid afternoon showers. The score was 1-0 in the first off of an own goal. Only 10 minutes into the second half and those pesky summertime showers decided to throw some lightning bolts out east. IMG never saw a drop of rain but to be safe they went into a weather delay. It lasted almost an hour, After the delay Canada came out firing. The scored 3 goals in the final 30 minutes to win 4-0. A great result for them and a good one for me as well. It meant I got to cover another game.
May 12th Canada vs Costa Rica in the quarter final, with the winner punching their ticket to the World Cup. This match started at 10am. It was hot, mostly sunny with a slight breeze and occasional cloud cover. The match was close to start. I felt like Costa Rica had more possession but Canada seemed to have the higher quality chances. In the 22nd minute I got one of my favorite shots. A flying header attempt at goal. The play was ultimately called offsides but still a great moment. In the 45″+3″ of stoppage time, the ref award Canada a penalty kick after the Costa Rica keeper fouled the Canada forward. This put one of their best players in prime scoring position. His name is Jaden and he is a stud. Loads of talent, which is to be expected, but even on the pitch with the highest quality talent around him he still stands out. He stepped to the spot and put the ball in the back of the net to put Canada up 1-0
The second half quickly got turned on it’s head as the Costa Rica team was awards a PK for almost the exact same infraction. The CR player did the same as his counterpart and tied the game up, 1-1. The rest of the match was closely contested. Again I would say that CR held a slight advantage in the possession realm but couldn’t use that to their advantage. Ironically both teams also put a ball off the post which could have really changed the game in both instances. This was the reaction of the Canadian player after the ball hit the post.
Ultimately the match went into extra time. 90″ wasn’t enough to settle it. Canada seemed to have the upper hand to me in the final dual 15 minute halves. I don’t think either keeper was really strongly challenged in the last 15 minutes. You could feel the intensity building on the pitch. The game got a little chippy and the coaches were really imploring the boys to fight hard and finish the match before it went to penalty kicks. I bet most fans like to see PK’s but it really stinks to let such a great and important game come down to them.
After the final whistle blew I saw Lee, who is a media member for Canada who came down with the team. I asked him how his nerves were holding up. He said “Not great but I have confidence.” I am clearly rooting for Canada but I know my heart isn’t nearly as invested as theirs are. The boys locked arms at midfield and the coaches and subs did the same on the sideline. Now if you don’t know soccer well, know that PK’s do involve skill, but there is a lot of luck too. The keeper has to try to make a read, or more likely, a guess on what way the opponent is going to try to go. I think if you hit a perfect ball it doesn’t matter if the keeper guesses right. The goalie is at a huge disadvantage. Normally one spot, or one miss is enough to take the win. Costa Rica had the first opportunity to score. I am solely focused on the Canadian keeper. I take a peek to see when the CR player is going to start his run up to the ball, back to the keeper I go, the shot goes to the keepers right. and low. The Canadian keeper guessed right! He got just enough of his hand on it to make a save! On the first kick the pressure has been placed solely on the CR keeper to make a save and the CR boys to not miss. This shot is the reaction of the Canadian keeper after his first PK save.
The next few players from both squads put the ball in the back of the net. Canada is going their job, just keep scoring. The third player for Canada steps to the ball and smack, another save! All those nerves come rushing back. The lead, gone. We are right back where we just were. Tied up with the game hanging in the balance. The very next player for CR steps to the ball and I heard two smacks, the foot off the ball, and the ball off the crossbar! He missed it. I feel awful for the kid because you know that will stay with him forever. I looked to Lee after that goal and told him “If they win this, I’m rushing the field with them for pictures.” The last Canadian player steps to the ball. It is simple at this point. Put the ball in the net and you are going to Brazil. Miss and we keep going. He was cold blooded, no hesitation, right into the net. Canada wins 1-1 (4-3). The immediate outpouring of jubilation is beautiful. The players at midfield rush towards the goal, the coaching staff and subs to the same. A dog pile ensues around the player that just notched the last goal. There are tears of joy. There are screams of “We are going to the World Cup!” “We did it boys!” A sea of red jerseys surround me.
One interesting thing about being a photographer. A lot of the time when you have a camera in your face, you seem to be disconnected from whatever moment is going on around you. There are times when I tell myself put the camera down, enjoy the moment. This was not one of those moments. I cannot do that. My job is to capture those moments, turn those memories into a tangible item that they can have, hold, keep, remember forever. I started looking through the lens differently. I was looking for the shot, but even though I was shooting their joy was coming through the lens to me in a way I haven’t felt often. I was so happy for them. I’m not Canadian, I don’t know any of these kids. I am just a photographer that was hired to take pictures of them. That being said I could not be happier for them. I felt like I was part of that moment. It was a moment I won’t soon forget either. The last shot I got one of the staff called all the boys over to huddle up. I went right back into shooting mode. Group shots are a thing that happens a lot in ultimate frisbee. Teams get together after games all the time. I know the shot I want. I want to be low, I want to be IN the huddle. I find a player that has a small gap next to him and put my camera on the ground right next to his foot. The next words out of the coaches mouth are, “WE ARE GOING TO THE WORLD CUP!” An explosion of cheers and screams the boys all hyped up jumping around. Now the job is to save the camera, I took either a knee or elbow to the face, about broke my glasses and I couldn’t care less. Now Tuesday Canada plays USA in the semi finals. That’ll be interesting to cover. I just want a good game.
If you want to come out to the USA vs Canada match, it is Tuesday night at 6:30 at IMG. If you liked this blog post, give the blog a follow so you never miss a post. Also follow me on the gram and facebook. Both at Billy D Photography