I’ll admit the payoff of this episode wasn’t a huge surprise, given the title of the ep – “First Goal”. But that doesn’t lessen the impact any, because of the way the buildup was handled in the writing – not just in this episode, but over the course of the entire series. I can see why the mangaka put the backstory on Shou’s father right before this episode, because it added another layer of meaning to what was happening on the field. As usual, the show got it just right – not too much overplayed emotion, letting the drama of the moment work for itself.
Truth be told there wasn’t a whole lot of drama in the outcome of the Predators first match of the city tournament – it was a mismatch from the opening whistle. But it was still a big game for the non-triplet members of the squad, with some real milestones achieved. The first “first” of the game was Reika’s first actual touch during a match – I think the attacker was so shocked she actually moved her feet that surprise worked to Reika-chan’s advantage. We also saw the first in-game exhibition of “Little Tri” (It’s “Reverse Three”, dammit!”) which Shou adroitly unveiled when the haggard opposing squad was man-marking the Furuyas. This led to the first goal 3U scored on their own, the honors falling to little Uchimura.
That was all building towards the titular “first goal” of course – but the magic was in the way Shou’s entry into the tally sheet happened. Yes, the game was out of hand – but Shou had been his usual dutiful self, playing the thankless center back role while others took the glory and enjoyed their “hunt”, expertly directing the strategy of the Predators on the field. I think it’s wholly in character that it was Ouzou – I’ve said before that he’s my favorite of the triplets, and he’s certainly the least selfish and most self-aware – who took it upon himself to try and get Shou a goal. It was via a corner kick – generally, set pieces being the best chance for a center-back to notch a rare goal – and Ouzou directed Ryuji to cover while Shou took an attacking line at the far post. It was a perfect corner by Ouzou, and Shou recalled all his lessons with Masaru-san-chan – but it (fittingly) required an extra effort, as his initial header was saved. Seizing the moment Shou executed a perfect diving header, scraping his chin in the process, and finally got his name on the scoresheet.
A meaningless goal in extra time of a one-side game, certainly – but quite meaningful in the context of the series. It says a lot about Ouzou that he did what he did, and even more, it was clear that Shou was long overdue to be rewarded for all the tireless effort he put in both on and off the field to make the Predators the team they’ve become. To quote Harada-sensei, “Nobody can keep on going forever without some measure of reward”, and for a footballer (especially a central defender) there’s no reward like a goal. Taichi may still be waiting for his, but at least Shou got to bask in the glory for a moment or two before the serious work begins.
The focus now shifts to Takuma Aoto-Gonzalez – with apologies to Aizawa Kakeru – a real baby-faced assassin, and leader of the Heavens, the next opponent for Predators. Kouta, fabulously juvenile as ever (he refuses to shake the hand of the man-child Kageura, leader of the likely finals opponent and defending national champ, Amarillo) continues to be obsessed with revenge against Aoto for outshining him. Aoto, for his part, seems to quite enjoy the consternation he causes for Kouta, and he scores all six (!) of his team’s goals in their match with Kiyose Kickers. We know of course that Aoto will eventually join Shou’s soccer harem, so it’ll be doubly interesting to see how he fares going head-to-head against his future teammates. And for that matter, why was Erika-chan red-faced in the preview – is she blushing because she’s crushing on the Heavens’ blonde pocket rocket?