FREE 7-9 February
by Jennifer Goebel and Dagmar Jacisinova
Tournament authors Jennifer Goebel and Dagmar Jacisinova got swept into the world of soccer when their four sons, now teenagers, started playing for local town teams at the age of five. Watching from the sidelines, they lamented the lack of books that would appeal to their middle-school boys, and decided to take matters into their own hands. "How hard could it be?" they asked themselves. Now they know.
In 2014, a worldwide nuclear war demolishes a wide swath of the planet. Alaska, the only part left of the United States, joins with the other surviving countries to set up a Global Government. Its primary responsibility is to prevent another devastating war. Leadership changes every two years, based on the outcome of the only competitive outlet the survivors can agree on: a worldwide soccer tournament.
In 2044, 17-year-old twin soccer stars Jason and Nate are ready to play the game of their lives. But they soon discover that Alaska’s new president has some very special plans and winning the Tournament is the least of their worries.
February 1, 2044
Thud. Thud. Thud. Jason sat on his bed, bouncing the soccer ball off the gray cement wall across from him in his dorm room. All the rooms were the same. No posters, no pictures, just endless dull gray wall in the old military barracks. Not much to look at, but what they lacked in charm, they made up for in smooth bounce-ability. The ball came back to him with perfect regularity. He tried to focus on catching the ball with his left hand, which was his weaker side.
Thud. Thud. Thud. The clock by his bed taunted him. 3:12. It was like each minute was lasting an hour.
On the bed by the window, his brother was reading a book. They almost never had time to read. When they did, Jason usually went for comic books and sports magazines, which were thrown haphazardly on the bottom shelf of their bookcase. Nate’s small collection of pre-War paperback books sat next to them, lined up, alphabetically arranged by author. The rest of the shelves were filled with rows of gold and silver trophies, plaques, medals, and team pictures. Jason bounced the ball closer and closer to Nate, to see if he would respond. Nate’s head leaned back on a pillow propped against the wall by the room’s only window, and he held the book over him to catch the sunlight. Lights were usually off in the dorms during the day to save energy. Everyone was at practice from 8am to 6pm anyway. But today, being a special day, they had electricity. Jason thought about reminding his brother of that fact, but decided not to. Let him try to read in the waning February afternoon sunlight. Nate turned a page. Jason went back to bouncing. 3:13.
“How can you read?” Jason asked, exasperated. Some-times his brother, twin though he was, completely mystified him. Jason had tried reading his comic books earlier today, but he had read them all before. The words swam in front of his eyes, making no sense, while his brain raced around in circles. He needed motion. But there was nowhere in the soccer training camp that he wanted to go. Some kids were probably at the gym or the video room. He had been in the video room earlier, blowing things up with weapons that no longer existed. Even though they were gone, he knew their names: AK-47s, M-16s, M-249 SAWs, ACRs, M203 grenade launchers, Kalashnikovs. Battling virtual enemy forces was fun for a while, but he had beaten all the levels on the games they had. He had hung out with his friends, talking about the teams, speculating about who would make it, and pretending he wasn’t worried. Just another day in the country’s most elite soccer training facility.
He could go back to the cafeteria. But nothing seemed appetizing. His stomach felt queasy, like he had felt the time his family had driven the 350 miles to Anchorage and gone on a whale watch. They hadn’t seen any whales or dolphins, and his stomach churned the whole trip. He ended up leaning over a rail and heaving his breakfast. Pretty much ruined sunny-side-up eggs for him for life. Toast was the only thing that had looked possible this morning, and even that had stuck in his throat at breakfast. Nate, on the other hand, had managed to consume his usual cafeteria breakfast of protein shake, fruit, and yogurt. He could be so annoyingly calm.
“Have they found Earth yet?” Jason asked, more to get some kind of answer from Nate than because he cared at all about a stupid book.
“Nope,” said Nate, moving across the bed and tilting the book to catch the waning light.
Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. 3:14. Bang.
“Oops, sorry,” Jason said as the ball careened off the wall and onto Nate.
“Yeah, right,” Nate said, sighing. He put down his book. “Stop stressing out. You’ll make it. You’re the best goalie here.” Nate paused. “But I won’t make it. If it weren’t for this stupid knee...”
Jason stared at the floor, running his eyes along the lines dividing the worn linoleum squares. Knees gave out in even the best athletes. Sometimes it just happened from overuse in training. For Nate, though, it had been a foul by another player that resulted in a badly torn ACL. Surgery, then rehab, had taken most of the last three months. If he had another six months, Jason was sure Nate would have made the team. But the Tournament started in July.
“If I don’t make it, I wonder where they’ll send me. Do you think I could end up going home?”
“Home?” Jason repeated.
Jason stared into a corner, holding the ball, while images of home–a small apartment in west Fairbanks about an hour from here in a butt-ugly boring high-rise building–flashed through his mind. It was in “the projects,” groups of post-War buildings constructed too quickly for anyone to care how they looked. They were lucky to have gotten one at all. The two-bedroom apartment was too small for the six of them, so it was a good thing he and Nate had been recruited for training when they were in the third grade. He was sure their neighbors were thrilled, too. The walls were thin, and the sounds of two boys jumping on the bed, throwing things against the wall, and wrestling on the floor were probably not missed. It had been more than eight years since they had lived there, and Jason had stopped calling it home ages ago. He went back to bouncing the ball against the wall. Nate went back to his book. Jason glanced at the clock: 3:16. Forty-four more minutes to go… maybe. If they posted the results on time. Forty-four more minutes when he and Nate were on the same team. Nate obviously didn’t want to talk.
Jason bounced the ball against the wall about a foot above Nate’s head. Nate jumped.
“Hey! Chill out.” Nate sat up.
“You might make the squad, even if you don’t make the starting line-up,” said Jason. “Your knee is getting better. You still have a chance. Aren’t coaches always saying soccer is a mind game? Well, you’ve got that.”
“Yeah, I’ve got that,” Nate said, “but this knee isn’t ready. Probably not even to sit on the bench.”
“This sucks,” Jason knew Nate was probably right. They had carefully avoided talking about it, but both knew that Nate’s knee wasn’t ready yet. He still had another month of rehab to go. Of the 22 players who would make the squad, only 15 would be on the roster to play each game. Eleven starters and four subs. The other seven players would be warming the bench. With more than 100 kids trying about for 22 spots, competition was fierce. And even if you made the team, there was no guarantee you’d be one of the starters.
“Maybe they’ll let me be the water boy. I’ll pass out all your personalized water bottles at half-time. That’ll be fulfilling.” Nate joked. If things were reversed, Jason would be pissed. He’d really want to take it out on the kid who injured him. But Nate wasn’t like that.
Maybe it was because he was older. Four minutes shouldn’t make any difference, but for some reason, it did. Sometimes those four minutes seemed like four years. Jason looked at his brother. Like him, but also not. They both had long, muscled legs from all the soccer training, blue eyes, and dark, straight hair that was cut short, in accordance with Alaska training camp rules. Nate’s eyes were a slightly deeper blue and a little wider apart, and his face was a little narrower. People who knew them well could tell them apart by how they walked and how they stood, but that was a small group. The last time they had been home, their little sister Sarah, who was just ten, had kept mixing them up. That had been awkward, but not surprising, since they hadn’t lived at home since Sarah was a baby.
Jason went back to bouncing. Nate went back to his book. 3:17. The ball bounced off the wall and off one of the desks by the door. Their computer monitors were both asleep, just the little blue light in the corner indicating power was on. Jason thought about going to check his email inbox or the weather page. See what parts of Alaska were under radiation alerts. But that seemed like too much effort. He thought about taking his ADD pill, which he only used occasionally for school work, to see if that would calm him down. But he had a feeling that the only thing that would put an end to his misery would be the arrival of 4pm.
Jason kept bouncing the ball, slowly. 3:18. He tried to focus on the ball and how it met his left hand. His mind kept wandering, though. He remembered the look on Coach Chip’s face during tryouts as he watched Nate. In the high stakes game of The Tournament, they weren’t willing to bet on a player with an injury. But he hoped they would put him on the team as an alternate or something. They had to find a place for him. Nate had worked so hard, and he was one of the best defenders on the team. He was “the wall.” Together, Nate and Jason were the cornerstone of their team’s defense, and worked together seamlessly to shut down scoring. It worked, and their team had the lowest goals-against in the league. What if, without Nate, he wasn’t nearly as good a goalie? That little thought gnawed at his insides.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Nate closed his book.
“Look, tomorrow, when the media come, no matter what happens to me, you better act like it’s the best day of your life,” Nate said seriously.
Jason faked throwing the ball at him, and Nate ducked.
“Got ya,” said Jason. “Okay, yeah, I know. I will.”
“Let’s practice your interview skills,” Nate said, putting his book down, and sitting up.
“I’ll be the reporter, and you’ll be the star 17-year-old athlete who just realized his life’s ambitions, who has been training for this day since he was eight years old. Ready?”
“No.” Jason kept bouncing the ball off the wall. Thud. Catch. Thud. Catch.
Nate looked at him.
Nate picked up a sweaty shin guard from a pile of cleats, socks, shorts, and t-shirts under his bed, and held it in his hand like a microphone. He sat down next to Jason on his bed, held the shin guard in front of his face, and said in a deep, serious voice:
“So how does it feel to be 17 years old and have the weight of the country riding on your shoulders?” Nate poked the shin guard-as-microphone into Jason’s chin.
Jason shoved it away, and pushed Nate off the bed. His landing was cushioned by his own pile of workout clothes and cleats.
“Oh, that’s really mature,” said Nate, sarcastically, as he scrambled up from the floor. “You’ll end up in the detention center instead of on the team if you pull something like that, you moron.”
“Well, keep that disgusting shin guard out of my face,” grumbled Jason. “It stinks. The microphones probably won’t smell like they came out of the sewer.”
“Whose turn was it to do the laundry? Oh, look at that handy color-coded chart by the door. What does it say? Wow, I can even read it from here. Oh yeah, I think it says you,” countered Nate.
Jason looked at the list, and sure enough, there was the big blue J on the chore calendar.
“You didn’t sweep or mop the floors, either.” Jason crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“Yeah, but we never do that,” said Nate. They had agreed that the dirty clothes did a fine job of wiping up the floors, and so generally skipped that part of the required chore list. So far, the dorm monitor hadn’t challenged their methods.
“Just humor me. I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow, and I want to make sure you have this down,” said Nate.
“Fine,” said Jason, annoyed. He grabbed another shin guard from under the bed, and stood in front of the mirror that hung on the back of the door. He took a deep breath. Then he smiled winningly at his reflection and said, “I’m just happy to be chosen. I will work my hardest to show the world that Alaska is the greatest country in the world!”
“Pretty good,” agreed Nate. “Now try a harder one: How do you feel about all the sacrifices you’ve made to get here?”
“It’s been hard, not seeing our parents or my sisters, but it’s been worth it,” said Jason, to the mirror, flashing another broad smile. He could almost see his molars.
“Okay, glamour boy, stop admiring yourself, and think,” said Nate. “That’s a trick question, you know.”
“Jason, come on. We haven’t made sacrifices. We’ve been chosen. We’re the lucky ones. We’ve had good food, clothes, school, and plus Mom and Dad got those good jobs at the university, and they have that apartment–okay, it’s tiny and ugly, but it’s in a good part of town and it has electricity most of the time. And it’s all because of us.” Nate looked at Jason.
“They won’t ask that, you know. Because it only seems like sacrifice to us.” Jason could tell he’d surprised Nate.
“Okay, what would I really say? I’d say it was a great honor to be chosen, and I’m so happy to be on the team. I love soccer, and I love Alaska. This year, we’ll win the Tournament, and everyone will see Alaska’s glory! Go Alaska!” Jason raised his arms in the air, as if he was on the podium receiving a medal. He bowed to an invisible audience, waved, and smiled so hard his face muscles hurt.
“Okay, okay. No need to overdo it,” Nate said. “You really think I could make the team?”
This was the first time Jason had heard some hope from Nate.
“I bet you will,” said Jason. “Coach Chip knows how good you are, and he knows you’re almost done with rehab. Evan, Jack, and I were talking about it earlier, and they both think you’ll make it. They have 22 spots. You have one more month of rehab, and the Tournament doesn’t start until July. Even if they don’t put you on as a starter, they’ll probably put you on the bench. I mean, look at all that stuff.” Jason gestured to the top shelf of the bookcase, where Nate’s lineup of statues and plaques for league championships stood. “You have more ‘man of the match’ awards than anyone else. They know you’re awesome.”
“Who am I kidding?” Nate shook his head. “We all just train, train, train, hoping we’ll make it, but most of us won’t. And I never really thought about what I would do after soccer, you know? Never thought beyond today, and being on the national team.” Nate slumped back on his bed.
“It’s crazy. I mean, whoever came up with the idea that a bunch of 16- and 17-year-olds should decide the fate of the world?” Jason went back to bouncing the ball off the wall. The clock read 3:25.
“Don’t be such a drama queen. It’s not the fate of the world, it’s just who gets to run the Global Government for two years. But, yeah, it does seem like a strange way to run things. Before the War, they just had soccer tournaments for fun. People cared who won and who lost just because of national pride.”
“You sound like one of those government videos about World War III, and the downfall of the world’s major cities, blah blah blah,” said Jason. “But, I don’t get it. Remember when Coach told us about how there used to be riots when soccer teams won or lost. Why did they care so much?”
Although he’d seen the history videos in class that explained what the world was like before the War, it was hard to imagine people going about their daily lives knowing that nuclear-armed countries were able to start a war at any time. It must have been awful, knowing that you could see missiles coming at you while you were sleeping or at your birthday party. Even though most of the world was still struggling to rebuild 30 years later, Jason thought it was probably less stressful living now. The fear of another nuclear holocaust was completely gone thanks to the Global Government. Sure, people were poor, hungry, and sick, but from what he could tell, things hadn’t been perfect before the War, either.
“Well, maybe that’s why most of Europe was completely flattened,” said Nate. “And maybe that’s why Alaska is all that’s left of the United States. Maybe they all just cared too much about stupid stuff like sports championships, when they should have been actually paying attention to where the nukes were and whose finger was on the button.” Jason and Nate were both quiet. 3:31.
“I think we can win this year,” said Jason.
“Alaska has never won. What makes you think we can win this time?” Nate asked.
“Us, stupid. We can win it. We’re unstoppable. Duh.” Jason swung his legs over his bed, and leaned down to look for his blue flip-flops.
Suddenly they heard, “The lists are up!” and feet stampeding toward the main gym.
“But it’s too early! They said they wouldn’t be up until 4,” yelped Jason, as he frantically felt around for the second flip-flop.
Nate reached under his bed, and tossed one of his green flip-flops to Jason.
“Use that. Let’s go!” They ran out the door, letting it shut behind them.
Nate Carey - Nate, 17, is the older of the Carey twins. He has lived in soccer training camps since he and his brother Jason were “recruited” at the age of eight, and only sees the rest of his family once a year. He has two younger sisters, Sarah and Christina, whom he barely knows. Being separated from his parents at such a young age, Nate became mature beyond his years, and took on the role of protector and defender of his “little” brother on and off the field. As a soccer player, his protective instincts made him one of the best defenders the training camp has ever seen.
Jason Carey - Jason, 17, is the younger of the twins, born four minutes after his older brother, Nate. Jason is more of a bulldog, a typical younger brother - the risk taker, the clown, the one who fell off his chair, the one more likely to use his fists rather than his brain if insults were thrown. He wouldn’t have done well in a regular school. The psychiatrist labeled him as “ADD,” which, for soccer players, was actually a benefit. The best goalies had ADD, so everybody said, and Jason fit the mold. His reflexes were amazingly fast, and his ability to hyperfocus on the game made him nearly impossible to score on. Jason is chosen to be the captain of the national team of Alaska.
Cassie Palmer - Cassie, 16, is the only girl to make the team in the last four years. Her family has been farming in Alaska for generations, and has three brothers, one older and two younger. As the only girl, she was always running around with the boys and never had a girl friend until she met Karen at training camp. Cassie is a soccer prodigy who spent the last eight years training harder than anyone else, trying to overcome the disadvantage of her gender.
Reed Martinez - Reed, 16, is the son of a former MLS player, Rick Martinez, who is now the Minister of Security in the Alaska government. Reed, an only child, lost his mother to complications from radiation exposure when he was only eight years old, and lives with his father and their housekeeper, Rosa. He’s a star striker, and has the MVP awards to prove it. Reed and his best friends, Max and Sam, are a deadly combination on the field, but can be trouble off the field. Obnoxious and arrogant, they don’t like the idea of a girl bringing down their team.
Luke Petrovre - Luke, 17, was orphaned at the age of two, when his parents died in a car crash. When his Russian grandmother, who took care of him, died, he ended up in an orphanage at the age of six. Despite his troubled childhood, Luke is a funny and easygoing guy. He becomes Jason’s roommate and best friend, helping Jason deal with his new responsibilities as team captain.
I bought this book for a summer read for my teen and she has recommended it to all her teammates as well as her non soccer friends. Finally a sports novel that has an intelligent, strong, talented independent girl! Cassie is a character that will inspire girls both on and off the field and one you would want to be your daughter's best friend. I don't usually read the same books as my child but they talked so much about it I had to see what they were so excited about.
The authors of this book really get teens - I enjoyed the realistic dialog and relationship dynamics. Soccer players will be able to relate to the descriptions of the technical aspects of the soccer games - this veteran soccer mom learned a few things herself! But the book is much more than just a soccer tournament and will appeal to non sports fans as well. It captures the real issues teens deal with - fitting in, the stress of living up to your parent expectations, awkwardness of first relationships, fears and rewards of competition and how strong the bond of friendship & siblings can be. Jason and Nate are twins and remain fiercely loyal and supportive of each other despite the trying situations they encounter. Their personalities bring out the best in each other and you can't help but root for them.
We were sad the story had to come to an end but hope Cassie, Jason and Nate will have more adventures in the future. Until then don't walk, sprint and buy this book.
About the Authors
Jennifer Goebel has always wished that “reader of books” was a paid profession. Born in the Philippines, she moved a lot as a child and books were her constant companions during the constant “new kid” transitions. This near-pathological love for being immersed in an imaginary world has continued into adulthood, as the two-foot high stacks of books on her bedside table and her husband Jamie will attest. As a parent, she has tried to instill a love of reading into her two boys, Ben and Matthew, with some success. In return, both boys have led her into the unfamiliar world of sports. After many years of watching the boys battle it out on the field, she is finally able to competently explain the offsides rule.
Dagmar Jacisinova was born in a country that does not exist anymore and moved to the USA as wide-eyed, barely English-speaking “youth” at age of 25. She “perfected” her English by watching soap operas (yeah, no kidding) and talking to two-year-olds while babysitting. Dagmar never spent a day without reading and she started to read kids' and YA literature while trying to force the love of books on her twin sons. That twisted path also led her to writing this book, as she felt that most of the middle grade books out there were for “chicks.” Dagmar still spends her “free” time watching her teenage kids dishing out and receiving punishments on various soccer fields, carpooling six “sweaty Neanderthals” to and from soccer games, while listening to them with her ears “wide open.”