(The United Chronicles is a work of fiction. Any resemblance by the characters to true life people, or events in the world of elite youth soccer are coincidental, even if unavoidable.)
Derek Styles strode onto the training ground at United FC with a myriad of thoughts running through his brain.
The first was the same one he always thought of at this first step onto a soccer field. The moment he felt the turf make that crunching feel beneath his cleats, he immediately went back to the first time he wore a pair of cleats onto a field at age 7. He loved the way it felt and it always made his pulse quicken just a bit, knowing that playing, and now coaching soccer, was about to take place.
For as well-rounded as the 31-year old single man tried to be, he knew that in the end, soccer is what really made him tick. He had been a standout club and high school player followed by his earning All-America awards in college, before having a cup of coffee in the pros. He had a degree in business, loved music and history and tended to look down on those coaches he met who knew nothing else but soccer, but he couldn’t deny that soccer was the thing he loved most.
Derek also couldn’t help momentarily reflecting on the crazy turn of events that had brought him to this day. He had won all kinds of trophies coaching at another club in another state, capped by taking his signature team to a berth in the national championships. He had worked another job, selling office supply products, but that was only because the coaching gigs didn’t pay enough to make ends meet. So when his old friend and sometimes mentor, Warren Parker, had offered him the chance to work full time at his club, he jumped at the opportunity for a full-time coaching job.
“Here you can concentrate on soccer and you’ll have all the advantages you could ask for,” Warren had said. “We’re as well-known a youth club as there is. The facilities are great. All the players in this area want to play for us, and the parents are willing to pay top dollar. You can work full time and what I want is for you to replace me someday as director.”
Derek didn’t have to be asked twice. Warren was delivering four teams for him to coach including one, the U14 Boys, whom he thought would be the next dynasty-type team at the club, and the U17 Girls, who sported a number of all-star players but hadn’t quite put it together in terms of team honors.
The pay was good, but to be under the oversight of Warren, a true national coaching legend, and for that same legend to be touting you as the next Director of Coaching at the club, well that was like hitting the jackpot.
But then everything changed. Derek had been hired in June and was due to begin at the beginning of August, but in early July he got a call from Warren’s wife telling him that her husband had a stroke two days earlier. The stroke was serious and while Warren made it through, he was told he would have to step back from his work duties for at least a season or else run a high risk of recurrence. Derek was shocked at the news, thinking his friend, still fit by all appearances in his mid-50s, could be hit in this manner.
He was even more shocked when he heard from Bradley Pembroke, President of United, that in an emergency board meeting, Derek had been chosen as interim coaching director, on Warren’s recommendation.
So now Derek was stepping into more responsibility than he’d ever had before. On one hand it was a great opportunity, but he also found it to be an opportunity to fall on his face with everyone watching. He jettisoned two of the teams in order to assume the director’s duties. He found a place to live and met with most of the club’s coaches, just the night before the opening day of training. The coaches meeting had confirmed his suspicions that not everyone at the club was happy to have him there, and the stories coaches would swap at tournaments about the high-powered politics at United FC were turning out to be relatively true. He was in for a challenge, and Warren would not be able to help him much.
“Coaching players, making them better – that’s what I do,” he told himself to snap out of his semi-daydream. He saw a few players warming up on various fields at the complex, with other backpack-wearing youngsters scurrying in from the parking lot. Some were rushing to avoid being late and others were striding confidently, apparently more comfortable in their situations than others.
Amid the sounds of his cleats on the grass, kids’ cleats on the blacktop of the parking lot, and car doors slamming, he heard a feminine voice ring through “Are you Coach Styles?”
He turned to look and got an eyeful. Stepping out of a black, Cadillac Escalade was an attractive blonde-haired woman, probably early to mid-40s Derek estimated, positively dressed to kill in her skinny jeans, Jimmy Choo stilettos and a Tory Burch jacket . He noticed her bracelets and the graceful way she carried herself, but then immediately the massive platinum diamond ring on her hand.
Before she said anything else he knew it was Pamela.
Pamela Walker seemed to be something of a legend among the coaches at United. A few of them had mentioned to him during the meeting, but none in front of the whole group he noticed, that she was secretly referred to as a force to be reckoned with. One called her a coach’s fantasy and nightmare all at once. She had a son, Trevor, who was a top player on the U14s. Rumor was that Pamela had made sure Warren Parker had removed the previous coach of the team and brought in someone better, who it turned out happened to be Derek. Another coach even asked Derek if he and Pamela were friends, as Pamela had apparently trumpeted to a few people that Derek was going to make things happen both for the team and her son.
Pamela’s husband Irv was a board member at United, but really not that involved with things as his hugely-successful company kept him busy most of the time. The involvement part he left to Pamela, who more than made up for her husband’s absence with her activity. Pamela had been the visible presence surrounding her family’s large donation to the new training ground that Warren had worked so long for. She had also solicited some large donations from her associates in the country club set, all of which she made sure everyone knew about.
But what the coaches were whispering about was Pamela’s relationship to her older son’s coach. Stephen Ford had coached Hunter Walker’s team to a pair of State Championships, and by all accounts Stephen and Pamela were inseparable. She wasn’t the team manager, but more often than not she seemed to know team news before Stephen told the rest of the group about it.
During road trips, Pamela was known to settle debates among parents at the hotel bar or some restaurant by simply texting Stephen and then telling everyone his immediate reply. On other occasions, the two of them were nowhere to be found.
While Hunter was by most accounts an average player, he managed to get a spot on the roster of a college soccer team more lauded than those the rest of the team, even the consensus top player, were able to get. That Hunter rarely saw any action on the field during his freshman year of college was no surprise to anyone else at the club.
Another coach had told Derek that Pamela had advocated for Stephen to be the interim director after Warren’s stroke. She lobbied so vehemently that other board members had to remind her during the emergency meeting that she wasn’t, in fact on the board, and not really supposed to be at the emergency meeting. Pamela just seemed to have a way of being where she wanted to be.
So Derek felt some apprehension at the approach of this woman who had both bragged about his coming to the club to coach her son, but also lobbied for someone else to assume the director’s duties.
He stopped and jokingly replied “It depends on what I’m being accused of?”
Pamela laughed in a way he thought was probably forced, but not obviously so.
“Oh, Warren said you were funny. I’m Pamela Walker. You’ve probably heard of my son Trevor. He’s playing up on your team.”
Derek resisted the urge to respond with “No, never heard of him,” and instead shook her offered hand and just replied “Derek Styles. Pleased to meet you.”
“I’m so glad Trevor will have the chance to play for such an accomplished coach,” Pamela continued, undeterred. “He just loves soccer and with his kind of talent, he deserves a top coach like you.”
“Well I’m looking forward to working with the team,” Derek said rather blankly, forcing a smile.
“Oh coach, I ran by Starbucks and picked this up. I always bring coffee to practice so just let me know how you like it and I’ll make sure to get it right,” Pamela said in a voice Derek had to admit was pretty sexy.
Derek took the cup without saying anything, not having the heart to tell Pamela he wasn’t a coffee drinker. He thanked her and marched on a bit more swiftly to the field. Pamela watched him for a moment and then, aware that she might not have seemed in control of things for a moment, quickly looked away and walked to the small hillside where parents for her son’s team were beginning to gather.
“Well, she’s starting right away,” Jerry Anderson said to Margie Heffner. Jerry and Margie were fellow parents on the United U14s and had been watching the scene from the hillside
“Are you kidding?” Margie asked with a laugh. “If Irv’s away this week he probably stayed the night already. He’s just the next trophy.”
Derek walked to the center circle of the training ground and blew his whistle.
“Bring it in!”