Then there was the game in rural Clarkesville last season at which rival players and even some parents shouted a racial epithet at some of the African players on the Fugees. After being ejected from a game against the Fugees in November, a rival player made an obscene gesture to nearly every player on the Fugees before heading to his bench. And opponents sometimes mocked the Fugees when they spoke to each other in Swahili, or when Ms. Mufleh shouted instructions in Arabic.
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There were even incidents involving referees. Two linesmen were reprimanded by a head referee during a pregame lineup in October for snickering when the name Mohammed Mohammed was called. Mufleh tells her players to try their best to ignore these slights. When the other side loses its cool, she tells them, it is a sign of weakness. Mufleh is just as fatalistic about bad calls. In her entire coaching career, she tells her players, she has never seen a call reversed because of arguing. The Fugees are perhaps better equipped to accept this advice than most.
Their lives, after all, have been defined by bad calls. On the field, they seem to have a higher threshold for anger than the American players, who often respond to borderline calls as if they are catastrophic injustices. Bad calls, Ms. Mufleh teaches her players, are part of the game. You have to accept them, and move on. On Oct. Mufleh is forced to put this theory to the test.
A win will put them in contention for the top spot in their division. Mufleh sets out in her yellow Volkswagen Beetle, the back seat crammed with balls and cleats.
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Her team follows in a white Y. Just outside Monroe, Ms. Mufleh looks to her left and sees a Georgia State Patrol car parallel to her. She looks at her speedometer. The brake light, she thinks. The trooper turns on his flashing lights.
Mufleh eases to the side and looks at her watch. Because of a clerical error, a ticket Ms. Mufleh paid a year before appears unpaid. Her license is suspended.
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The trooper orders her from her car. In full view of her team, he arrests her.
In the bus, the Fugees become unglued. Several of the Fugees have had family members snatched by uniformed men, just like this. They have been in the United States too little time to understand court dates or bail. They know what to do.
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They can play without her. Coachless, though, the Fugees are lost. Athens scores within minutes. And scores again. And again. The final score is After the game, Ms. Ediger drives the team back to Monroe. Mufleh and signs some papers. In a few moments, the coach appears. Later, Ms. Mufleh says she thought at that moment about all the times she had told the Fugees to shake off bad calls, to get back in the game, to take responsibility.
She walks straight to the bus and her players. Mufleh asks about the score. Back in Clarkston that night, Ms. Mufleh takes some sweet rolls to the family of Grace Balegamire, a Congolese player. Mufleh explains that she gave the people at the jail some money and promised to come back later, so they let her out. The government there has issued no word on when, or if, he will be released. Jeremiah locks himself in his room and cries himself to sleep. Battling to the End. The administrator at the Y. Mufleh and Ms.
Ediger assemble the goals in Milam Park.
The goals and the new field offer Ms. Mufleh new opportunities to coach. On grass, players can slide-tackle during scrimmages, a danger on the old, gravelly field.
A lined field makes it easier to practice throw-ins and corner kicks. And goals: well, they provide a chance for the Fugees to practice shooting. A disturbing trend has emerged in recent games. The Fugees move the ball down the field at will, but their shots are wild. They tie two games despite dominating play. Perhaps the Fugees are missing shots for the reason other teams miss shots: because scoring in soccer, under the best conditions, is deceptively difficult. But Ms. Even so, the Fugees end the regular season on a misty Saturday with a victory, to finish third in their division with a record of , behind undefeated Athens and the Dacula Danger, a team the Fugees tied.
The season finale will be a tournament called the Tornado Cup. To a player, the Fugees think they can win. The Fugees need to win to advance to the finals. Her son wakes up an hour early every day to do a morning radio broadcast at his school. The Fire are mostly from the well-to-do Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta. They have played together under the same coach for five years.
They practice twice a week under lights, and have sessions for speed and agility training. Over the years, the parents have grown close. During practice, Ms. Daffner says, she and the other mothers often meet for margaritas while the fathers watch their sons play. In the summer, most of the players attend soccer camp at Clemson University. Each player has an Adidas soccer bag embroidered with his jersey number. There is one other expenditure. The parents of the Fire collectively finance the play of Jorge Pinzon, a Colombian immigrant and the son of a single working mother.
Fire parents go to great lengths to get Jorge to games, arranging to meet him at gas stations around his home, landmarks they can find in his out-of-the-way neighborhood. Jorge is the best player on the team. Mufleh gathers the Fugees before warm-ups. Just before the opening whistle, some of the Fugees see a strange sight on the sideline.