The goalWA.net PASL NW Player of the Week for the end of January is one for those who admire unsung heroes and going beyond the flashy statistics of goals and assists. Sometimes the spotlight shines on hard work that pulls a side together and makes a big victory possible, on a performance that is more important than the average fan might know or see.
Saturday night January 26 at the Bellingham Sportsplex the Snohomish Skyhawks visited the Whatcom Soccer Academy (WSA) Rapids in a match with heavy playoff implications. The Skyhawks had scored 16 goals in their previous match and the Rapids were giving up an average of 7+ goals per match in PASL play. Something had to change for the homestanding Rapids if they were to stay alive for a top-four finish and a playoff spot.
To add to the drama the place was packed. Bellingham United FC sponsored the indoor match and gave away free United t-shirts to the first 250 fans at the Sportsplex.
Out of this cauldron of drama a player arose who was praised by two local coaches as making the difference in the Rapids’ eventual 7:4 win over Snohomish: midfielder Joel Grossman.
Grossman is well-known in Bellingham soccer circles, having played for the Western Washington Vikings and also for Bellingham United in their inaugural PCSL season of 2012. Grossman is an Anacortes native who also played for Skagit Valley CC.
The Rapids needed to secure the middle, and Grossman was there to oblige.
Grossman’s outdoor head coach at BUFC, Lance Calloway, was one of the hundreds at the match on Saturday.
“Joel had a huge impact in winning 50/50 balls,” Calloway tells goalWA.net, “and then was first-class in maintaining possession and playing great balls creating dangerous opportunities.”
Rapids head coach Mark Lackey has watched WSA struggle to control the midfield in previous matches. He says the big win and low opponent goal total revolve around Grossman’s work rate.
“The reason Joel was the man of the match for us was his ability to be a two-way player,” Lackey explains.
“He was extremely effective at starting our attack by getting our forwards into positions to create goal-scoring opportunities. However, his most important contribution was his defensive work rate and organization. Our squad has given up too many goals this year but in this game we kept Snohomish to four goals which was in large part due to Joel cutting out their attacks in the middle of the field before Snohomish could get their goal scorers in dangerous positions.”
Sometimes unsung heroes overcome more than just the foe they face. Lackey says Grossman’s effort has a hidden wrinkle that makes it all the more notable.
“Grossman’s night was all the more impressive because Joel suffered an injury to his heal in the beginning of the game. His ability to battle through that injury and still be as effective as he was the difference for us.”
“After the injury I really could put no weight on my heel and it will probably prevent me from playing in the next few games,” Joel tells goalWA.net. “When it happened I knew I should stop playing, but I also realized the importance of this game and that a couple key players were missing for us, and I wanted to help bring home a victory as long as I did not hurt the team; so I just tried to bring energy and effort. I felt there were several guys on our team who had some pretty outstanding performances!”
“I love playing each season with the Rapids! However, this Rapids season for me has been frustrating. This is only the second game I have been able to play in due to injuries. I love playing on this squad with an extremely talented group of players we have, but the injuries have prevented me from playing. We are now on a roll winning our last 2 games and I know we can keep it rolling and finish out the season strong.”
The Rapids and Skyhawks are intertwined in a race for the playoffs. Both are 3-3 with nine points and two matches remaining. The Rapids host the Marysville Ruckus on Saturday February 2 before traveling to Snohomish on February 9. The Skyhawks travel to Bremerton on February 2 to play the Kitsap Pumas before they host the Rapids.