From FIFA World Cup Champion, Olympic gold medalist, and bestselling author Alex Morgan comes the twelfth and final book in an empowering and fun-filled middle grade series about soccer and friendship.
There are only two games separating the Kicks from the regional championship title. And with the Kentville Kangaroos boys’ team also on their way to the championship, Devin can’t contain her excitement for her friends!
That is until Steve, Devin’s crush, admits that he doesn’t think girl soccer players are as good as the boys.
Devin’s certain that the only want to prove him wrong is to work hard and player harder, like she’s always done. Instead, the Kicks and the Kangaroos place a bet: Whoever can get the most fans in the stands at their games is clearly the better team.
But when their plans to bring in spectators puts both of their championship games in jeopardy, Devin has to make a choice. Is beating the boys worth risking the title the Kicks have played so hard for?
Chapter One CHAPTER ONE
“Score! Rose Lavelle scores!” the announcer yelled. We were in Emma’s movie room, and I jumped up from the couch, nearly knocking off Zoe, who was right next to me.
“Yes!” I pumped my fist into the air as the other players of the US Women’s National Soccer team slapped Rose on the back in congratulations on Emma’s practically-movie-screen-size television.
My best friend, Jessi, high-fived me. Some of the other Kicks were also there.
“We’re winning!” Jessi crooned. Her hair, which she used to wear in long braids, was a mass of supercute black springy curls that shot out in all directions.
“Yes, but I’m gonna need to switch seats,” Zoe chimed in. “Devin, you almost knocked over my drink!”
Zoe was the only one of us wearing a dress, but it was sporty—an off-the-shoulder black Adidas T-shirt dress, with cool white kicks. She was growing out her short hair, and it was starting to curl behind her ears. Zoe was always fashion forward.
“Oops, sorry!” I shrugged. “But you know how excited I get!”
Emma laughed. “I told my mom we should consider putting a tarp over the couches because of what happened last time.”
I winced. During the World Cup the previous summer, in my excitement over the US women’s team’s win, I’d spilled red punch all over my seat. Mrs. Kim, Emma’s mom, had been really nice about it, but I had been soooooo embarrassed.
“Don’t remind me,” I told Emma. She was the tallest of my friends and looked sporty too, with her long black hair pulled back into a ponytail, and a T-shirt with the emblem of the South Korean flag emblazoned in the middle of a soccer ball.
We were watching one of the games in the US Women’s National Soccer team victory tour, after they’d won the World Cup. Today was a friendly match with Korea Republic, which was how FIFA, the International Federation of Association Football, referred to the South Korean women’s team. Emma and her family were South Korean, and she debated over who to cheer for.
“Since it’s a friendly game, I’m going to go ahead and root for Korea,” she’d explained nervously when we’d first gotten to her house.
“Oh, don’t worry, Devin,” Emma said now as she threw an arm around my shoulder. “We’ll just have to keep an eye on you. Maybe we should put you in the playroom for a little bit to calm down.”
Emma’s house was the perfect place to watch the game. It was more like a mansion than a house. The movie room was huge, with sliding glass doors leading out to the backyard, which had an in-ground pool. A large leather sectional surrounded the huge television screen, and there were comfy reclining chairs in place behind it. A long bar along the back wall had tall stools and every kind of soft drink we could imagine, including a new machine that poured out water or seltzer, and ten different fruit flavors we could add to it. Even though I could have had a soda, which I wasn’t allowed to have at home, I loved trying all the different-flavored seltzers, so that was usually what I drank when I went to Emma’s.
The playroom Emma was referring to was just down the hall from the movie room. It used to be for her and her brothers, but she had a large family with lots of little cousins, so they still used it all the time.
“When the nugget gets bigger, I’ll have to bring him,” Jessi said. The nugget was Jessi’s newborn baby brother, Oliver, who was the cutest baby I’d ever seen. He was so happy and smiley, and almost never cried. Oliver was way different from my little sister, Maisie, who had screamed all the time when she was a baby. Now that she was eight, she could be okay sometimes, but I was glad earbuds had been invented, so I could tune her out when I needed to.
“There’s a casting call for babies for a new line of organic baby food,” Frida chimed in. “Your mom should take Oliver. He’s a natural.”
Frida was the only person I’d ever met in person who had been on TV. She was the same age as the rest of us, and played soccer too, but her true passion was acting. She’d been in a bunch of commercials. Her biggest role so far had been in Mall Mania, a TV movie that she’d costarred in with the singer Brady McCoy. She’d played his sister. Come to think of it, I guess Frida wasn’t the only person I’d met who had been on TV, because she’d gotten Brady to show up for one of our soccer fund-raisers, and we’d all gotten to meet him. He was really nice. Emma was a superfan, and I’d thought she was going to pass out, because she completely freaked out when she met him.
“I don’t think my mom will go for that,” Jessi said.
Frida shrugged. “Not everyone is called to be an actor,” she said, a bit dramatically. Frida loved drama, and she loved to stand out, dressing in funky outfits and vintage clothing. Today she was toned down in yoga pants and a T-shirt, her long, reddish-brown hair falling in curls over her shoulders.
“That’s true,” Jessi said. “Who knows what Oliver will be like when he gets older? All he does now is sleep and eat. And speaking of eating—Emma, that soccer field snack stadium is amazing. And delicious!”
Emma beamed. “My mom and I worked on it all week,” she said.
I joined Jessi as she went back to the table next to the bar where the food was set up. Emma and her mom had gone all out and re-created a soccer stadium, filling it with edible goodies.
The field was made out of guacamole, with soft white cheese piped onto it to make the boundary lines, and the goals made out of square pretzels. The back wall of the stadium had cute little American and South Korean flags with toothpick flagpoles.
Carrot sticks with olive heads looked like tiny soccer players on the field. Emma and her mom had cut up empty cereal boxes to make the stands and covered them with white paper and soccer ball stickers. The stands were filled with food: hot dogs, slider burgers, sushi, veggies, dip, potato chips, Cheez Doodles, cookies, candy, fruit, and popcorn. There were so many choices, I almost couldn’t decide what to eat.
I filled a paper cup with M&M’s and brought them back to the couch so I could snack on them while we watched the rest of the game. As I settled onto the sofa, Jessi sat next to me, with a plate piled high with sushi and potato chips.
“Mmm, sushi,” Jessi said.
Zoe moved to the far end of the sectional away from me. “No offense, Devin, but this is a new dress, and I don’t want to ruin it.”
“It’s only M&M’s,” I protested, holding my cup out and shaking it so she could see. With that, a cascade of the brightly colored candies came pouring out onto my lap.
Everyone started cracking up.
“See? I’m staying right here,” Zoe said.
“Oh, Devin,” Emma said as I scooped M&M’s up from my lap and popped them into my mouth, “you might need to go into the playroom after all.”
“I can’t help it if you packed so many awesome things into the soccer snack stadium,” I said.
“Maybe we can help you make another one, for when the Kicks win the championship,” Jessi suggested.
“If we win the championship,” I said.
“Yeah, don’t jinx us, Jessi!” Frida cried.
My friends and I all played soccer for the Kentville Kangaroos, also known as the Kicks. We had made it to the playoffs for our spring season, and we’d won our first two playoff games. First we’d beaten the Victorton Eagles. And this morning we’d faced our longtime rivals, the Rams, on their turf, and had beaten them by just two points. We had only one more game before the final state championship match. It really felt like the win was in our grasp. Now, I wasn’t as superstitious as Frida, but I definitely didn’t want to spoil our chances either.
“Jessi’s not jinxing us,” Zoe countered. “We’ll practice, we’ll play, and we’ll either win or lose.”
“Thank you for sticking up for me, but don’t even say the word l-o-s-e,” Jessi said. “We’re going to win!”
“Shhh,” Emma said. “I think the game’s coming back on.”
But it wasn’t the game—it was an ad for the US Men’s National Soccer team game coming up next week. As we watched, Frida shook her head.
“It’s ridiculous that the men get paid more than the women,” she said. She’d taken lots of acting classes and knew how to put just the right oomph into anything she said.
I nodded my agreement. “The women’s team has an amazing record in the World Cup—better than the men’s team does.”
“Yeah, they’ve won, like, four times,” Jessi chimed in.
“But when France won the men’s World Cup, they got something like thirty-eight million dollars,” I said.
Frida tapped her phone screen and gasped. “When the US women’s team came in first, they got only four million!”
“Wow, the men got, like—ten times more!” Jessi cried.
Frida fumed. “That’s not all. Even in the regular season, the men make about three times as much as the women players. It’s totally wrong.”
“I heard there’s a lawsuit so the players can get equal pay,” Zoe commented.
“I hope the women win!” Jessi said. “Remember how the Kicks used to be treated compared to the boys’ team? That was awful.”
Emma’s nodded in agreement. “We didn’t even have a real soccer field, just dirt and weeds. We had trash cans as goalposts!”
“And while we were playing on that crummy field, the boys had a real one to use,” I said. “If Sally hadn’t paid for ours to get renovated, we’d probably still be playing on dirt with garbage cans.”
Sally Lane was the owner of a local sporting goods store. I hadn’t thought about her for a while, but the Kicks really owed her a lot. Her confidence in the team had helped us gain more confidence in ourselves, and I definitely know that our playing improved when we weren’t stepping into gopher holes. The new field was one of the things that had turned us from a last-place team into contenders for the championship!
“To Sally Lane!” Jessi said, holding a piece of sushi up in the air.
“To Sally Lane!” I said. I raised one of my M&M’s to toast by touching it to Jessi’s piece of sushi.
Everyone laughed as the game came back on the air. Both teams were good, but in the end, the US won.
“Oh, well.” Emma pouted. “Maybe next time.”
“Maybe the next World Cup will have South Korea and US in the final,” I said, to cheer her up.
“That would be cool!” Emma said.
“And you can make your soccer snack stadium again for us,” Jessi replied. “On second thought, I don’t want to wait that long.”
“It did take a lot of work,” Emma said. “I think it will have to be for special occasions only.”
I protested. “Hey, every time there’s a soccer game is a special occasion.”
Jessi laughed. “Soccer-ball-brain Devin.”
As we waited for our parents to pick us up, Zoe pulled out her phone to show us her Instagram account.
“I started a new fashion account,” she said, a little shyly.
We all oohed and aahed as we pulled out our phones to follow Zoe’s new Insta. Her first post featured her oldest sister, Jayne, and was captioned “Working It.” It featured Jayne in clothes for her new part-time job, as an office assistant in an accounting firm. She was hoping to be an accountant one day.
“I helped style Jayne for her new job,” Zoe explained. “Then we took photos for fun, and Jayne had the idea for me to do a blog and link it to Instagram.”
Jayne looked so grown-up and glamorous in the photos, I couldn’t believe she was still a senior in high school.
“That’s so awesome, Zoe!” I said, proud of my friend. When I had been in Connecticut for another friend’s big sweet sixteen party, my luggage had gotten delayed by the airline, along with my party dress. Zoe had saved the day by sending the most beautiful gown at the last minute.
Zoe smiled. “Thanks. I’m really proud of it. I’ve asked Sabine to do a shoot for me, which would be cool because, besides the fact that she’s gorgeous, we still haven’t met in person yet. But her schedule’s booked for a few weeks.”
Sabine and I had met during my very brief modeling career. We’d stayed friends after I’d decided that modeling wasn’t for me, and she and Zoe followed each other on social.
“Could you guys help me?” Zoe continued. “I’d interview you about your personal style and take some photos. It’ll be really fun and easy, I promise.”
Frida was in right away. “Of course!”
Jessi smiled and said, “Sure, why not? Although, I know I’m not as gorgeous as Sabine.”
Zoe blushed. “You definitely are! But you know what I mean. Sabine is…”
“Stunning!” Frida finished for her. “But I’m not intimidated. I know how to make the camera fall in love with me.”
“I’ll do it,” I said, but I was still thinking about Zoe’s blush. Was she crushing on Sabine? If she was, that would make perfect sense. They had so much in common. I was about to ask her, when Emma spoke up.
“I wear jeans and T-shirts every day. It’s like my uniform,” she said. “I’m way too casual to be on a fashion blog.”
Zoe shook her head. “You’ve got a great look, Emma, and I’ll take care of helping you pick out what to wear. It’ll be painless, I promise.”
Easygoing Emma agreed. “Okay, you talked me into it!”
As our parents’ cars started to arrive and we said good-bye, I reflected on how lucky I was to have such great friends. When I’d first come to California after moving from Connecticut, I had been really homesick. Then I’d met the Kicks, and everything had changed.
Alex Morgan became the youngest member of the US women’s national soccer team in 2009 and competed in the 2011 FIFA World Cup. She was the first overall pick in the 2011 Women’s Professional Soccer draft and landed a spot on the US Olympic women’s soccer team in 2012. At the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, held in London, Morgan won her first Olympic medal, a gold, with the American team. In 2015, she achieved her lifelong goal of winning a World Cup trophy, in the most-watched soccer match in US history. She now plays for the Orlando Pride in Orlando, Florida.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (April 5, 2022)