Soccer players practice day and night to be able to control the ball with their feet and send it flying with a spin as unpredictable as a Clayton Kershaw curveball.
There was the popular movie from 2002, “Bend It Like Beckham” that refers to exactly how distinctive the talent is to get the ball to curve a la David Beckham.
Steven Ramos, a 17-year-old junior defender at Birmingham High, had two free kicks Friday in a game against rival El Camino Real and stunned not only himself, but his coach, teammates and fans when he twice scored by making the ball bend so unpredictably that El Camino Real’s goalie was left helpless.
“I guess it’s a hidden talent. I didn’t know he had it,” Birmingham first-year coach Gus Villalobos said.
The left-footed Ramos was a mainstay on defense when Birmingham won the City Section championship last season, but he had never scored a goal, let alone be given a chance to try a free kick.
Little did anyone know that Ramos has been practicing out of sight to perfect his kick for the time he was called upon.
“I’ve been practicing since club season,” he said.
His first free kick was taken on the right side and ended up landing in the left side of the net, flying over four El Camino Real defenders stationed in front of him. The second free kick was straight ahead and the ball moved left to right as the goalie leaped up and was unable to deflect it as landed in the right corner of the net.
“It’s one of those things where you’re kind of like hoping for a goal and then it turns out to be a golazo, which is a Spanish term for amazing goal,” Villalobos said.
Said Ramos: “I hit it where the part of the show laces are and it did its own thing.”
If you haven’t seen a soccer match between Birmingham and El Camino Real, you are missing one of the great sports rivalries in City Section history. Just like Westchester-Fairfax basketball or Banning-Carson football, Birmingham-El Camino Real soccer raises the level of intensity on the field and in the stands.
Villalobos used to play in the game for Birmingham. His first appearance as a coach resulted in a 3-2 win.
“I played against El Camino and know what kind of rivalry it is,” he said. “To be on the other side of it, it’s a different feeling. It was great.”
At a time when City Section teams have been struggling to stay competitive against their counterparts in the Southern Section in football and basketball, the top City soccer teams have no such issues. Season after season, City teams can compete against the best. El Camino Real (9-2-1) has wins this season over Harvard-Westlake and Hart. Birmingham (7-1-1) has a win over Downey and a 1-0 loss to unbeaten San Clemente.
The match once again showed a continuing trend in soccer — players acting on injuries hoping to draw a penalty or delay the game. They’ve been watching too much television. The agony they show after a collision pleading for a foul is almost comical, especially when they suddenly jump back up after the referee says no foul.
“Everybody knows,” El Camino Real’s Jonathan Rabinovitch said when asked about players faking injuries.
It has become part of the game. But every once in a while, you witness a performance such as Ramos being able to bend the ball and do something only the sport’s best can pull off on a consistent basis.
“We have to do a better job not letting him have those free kicks,” El Camino Real coach Ian Kogan said.
The rematch is set for Jan. 24 at Pierce College. And maybe they’ll meet for another City title, as was the case last season.