“This is my team, and you’re not going to take my spot.”

Gilbert had just showed up to his first practice with the Monarch Soccer Club. Gilbert was supposed to have been the best player on his previous team, and Sam wanted to let him know where he stood.

“Ignore him”, said Luis, the team captain. “Welcome to the Monarchs.” Sam and Luis were best friends and had played together since grade school.

Sam and Gilbert had fought for the right forward position for weeks and now Sam stood on the sidelines, watching Gilbert break early when Luis pushed the ball up the field. Gilbert was only playing because Sam had twisted his knee in practice, trying to beat Gilbert in an agility drill.

Sam groaned as the referee’s flag went up, just after Luis put Gilbert’s cross into the back of the net. It didn’t count because Gilbert was offsides – a stupid mistake. He didn’t know to wait until Luis nodded.

When Luis came off the field at halftime, Sam said to him, “Too bad about that goal. Gilbert blew it.”

“He made a good pass,” replied Luis, “he’s just not used to playing with us.”

“Whose side are you on?” Sam asked. He was worried that Gilbert was trying to take his spot, and now Luis was defending him.

Luis turned and looked at Sam. “We’re a team. For the team to win, we need everyone to play well. Besides, he’s a teammate.”

“It won’t matter anyway, because I’ll be back for the Eagles game,” Sam said, loud enough for Gilbert to hear.

At practice the next day, Sam sat on the bench and watched Luis and Gilbert working together on the field and was upset that they seemed to be playing so well together, but he would be back on the field soon enough.

By Saturday, Sam’s knee felt better. It was game day, and when he put his uniform on, he thought about how he was going to show Gilbert who the real forward was.

The game was against their cross-town rivals, the Eagles, who had beaten the Monarchs five games in a row. But this time was going to be different. Sam and Luis were ready for them. When he got to the field, he said to Luis, with Gilbert standing nearby, “I’m back. Let’s go beat those Eagles.”

The Eagles scored first, and the score stayed 1- 0 until midway through the second half. Luis passed a ball out front for Sam, who broke at just the right time. “This is how it’s done, Gilbert,” Sam thought to himself as he planted his foot and prepared to cross the ball back to Luis.

The Eagles defender slid into Sam and they both hit the ball at the same time. Sam fell to the ground and grabbed his knee. This was worse than before, and all he could think of was now they were going to lose the game.

The coach ran out onto the field, with Gilbert by his side. Gilbert helped pick Sam up and carry him off the field. When they sat him on the bench, Gilbert said, “Don’t worry, Sam, we’re going to win this game for you.”

Sam watched Gilbert run out to his place on the field and thought about Luis saying they needed everyone to play well to win. He wanted to beat the Eagles, but didn’t want Gilbert to play too well.

Late in the game, Luis passed the ball to Gilbert, stepped away from the goal and nodded. Gilbert kicked the ball past the goalie to Luis, who stepped up and pushed it into the back of the goal to tie the game. Gilbert turned and pointed to Sam.

Sam cheered on the sidelines. Apparently, the time Luis spent working with Gilbert had made a difference, but inside he was still upset that it wasn’t him on the field.

Neither team was able to score again, and the game went to a shoot-out. After the first three shooters for each side, it was still tied. Then the shooter for each team missed. Gilbert was up.

Sam had watched Gilbert in practice and knew he was not great at penalty shots. If Gilbert made his shot, the Monarchs would be ahead. If he missed, the Eagles could win the game.

Sam thought about Luis saying they were teammates, and about how Gilbert had helped him off the field and told him they were going to win for him, pointing to him after the tying goal.

He looked at Gilbert, who was nervously kicking at the ground, then limped over to him and whispered, “This goalie likes to go to the right. Look right and push the ball on the ground to the left.”

Gilbert looked at him and said, “Why are you telling me this?”

Sam smiled and said, “Teammates,” and held his fist out. Gilbert bumped his fist and stepped up to the ball. He looked back at Sam, and then stared at the goalie, glanced to the right, and sent the ball to the left.

The goalie was already starting to his right when he saw the ball going the other way. He reached back with his foot and tipped the ball, but it rolled just inside the goal post. The Monarchs were ahead.

Sam gave Gilbert a high-five and stood by him as they watched their goalie punch the Eagles’ final shot out of the goal for the victory.

After they finished cheering, Gilbert turned to Sam, “We did it. Thanks for the tip!”

Sam smiled and said, “That’s what teammates are for.”