Why is playing defense so satisfying? I know it isn't everyone's cup of tea, but there are more than a few of us who love the high anxiety of the back line in a tight game - who love the challenge of trying to shut down a player with more speed, more skill - who live for the peculiar victory of engineering another's defeat. (Check out Nigeria's Faith Ikidi as she tackles Sweden's Teresa Sjorgan here in the 2007 World Cup.)
I am back home in Los Angeles, and just played today with a new team - 11-a-side, under blue skies & the hot afternoon sun, on a typical LA field (bumpy, with huge swaths of packed dirt running up and down the field). The first day with a new team can be nerve wracking, but these women were really welcoming and relaxed. Our opponents struggled for reasons that weren't totally clear as they seemed OK on the ball (fitness perhaps?). Our team won handily (3-0).
I played left back and had a great game. Not perfect, but still great. I pushed up, got involved in play, made all sorts of trouble for those trying to move down the wing, and had a really dramatic 'save' which nixed a breakaway at the last minute - At a full-on run, I managed to just catch the ball with my left foot as the striker was trying to pull it to the left to make a shot. I went flying, too, bringing down the striker and our keeper as I did so - but I'd gotten nothing but ball with the foot, and everyone was OK.
From the reactions of my teammates, I guess it looked pretty good. But as a defender, you are just angry that someone got past you, and that anyone is near the goal. You don't celebrate a block like you celebrate a goal. If you are in that situation, it's because something on your end went wrong. In this case, I wasn't in the right position, I got split between two players and got totally played on a nice give and go between their forwards, and one of them broke free. And while I may have gotten my foot on the ball at the right moment, I gave up a corner.
Defense can be such a different game than attack. Your work is often negative (stopping the action), and you are also often cleaning up messes (your own, your team's). And when you fuck up, you can't just stop to wallow in shame. You have to immediately, without missing a beat, keep at it. If you don't, your mistake may put the other team ahead. In a funny way, you can't take your mistakes too seriously during the game itself.
In any case, back to my opening question: Why is this role so satisfying?
Maybe it's because a really strong back line allows for the possibility of mistakes, allows your team to be more risky in its attacking game - and isn't this what makes the game interesting? I guess I just like being trusted with this responsibility.