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Clash of the Titans

History is littered with tales of grudge matches. Mohammed Ali vs Sonny Liston, The Red Sox against the Yankees, Rocky Balboa vs Apollo Creed, The Governor of California against The Predator / T-1000 / Russians / Government (delete as applicable). On Wednesday the closest thing RC soccer had to a grudge match took place, as NC took on NE. At stake the title of the best 1st year soccer team. In most years that setup would have provided sufficient tension – this year the history of these two teams raised the stakes further. A basement derby, already justification for an incendiary affair, combined with the acrimonious feeling that remained from the last meeting of these 2 sides during the normal season had raised the buildup to this game to near fever pitch. Neither side was willing to give an inch nor felt they should or, more critically, could lose.

But, in a tribute to Mad Max III, ‘Two must enter, only one can leave’ battle commenced. What no one was sure of was which side would buckle and break first.

Both sides settled quickly into their rhythm, but the game turned on two key moments before of which occurred inside ten minutes. The first was a save quite unlike any other, the second a wonder goal.

Many have described Jason Phillips as the find of this championship. I’d add he’s the find of this or any other championship. Before this season he had never played soccer, yet he took to the pitch like Casanova to a convent school. He epitomized everything you would look for in a keeper, his command of the area was second to none, his concentration exemplary. This allied to an obscene level of natural ability meant he kept making saves that in all honesty he had no right to. Nowhere was this shown better than in Wednesday’s game. Five minutes gone and NE broke down the left, the ball was squared into the centre and there waiting was an NE forward who swiveled and lashed the ball home. As the ball rocketed towards the bottom corner many spectators felt it was a certain goal, and yet somehow The Cat lept across the goal, his fingertips nudging the ball round the post. Outstanding, and necessary. Who knows how the game would have changed if that had gone in.

NC is a team in the truest sense of the word. Yet the best teams still need exceptional individuals who can turn the game. With the scores tied at 0-0, up stepped Delauno Hinson. Delauno is a man with a reputation.

For those who have seen him play you realize he is not a man to do the easy things. Ask him to score an open goal from 2 yards with his right foot and you probably wouldn’t find a bookie who’d accept a bet; he would miss. Ask him however to pick the ball up on the halfway line, beat three people, and then curl it round the keeper into the top corner and more often than not he would get it done. So it was with seven minutes gone.

Delauno single-handedly harassed the NE midfield into making a mistake.

Picking up the loose ball on the half way line, he twinkle toed his way round half the NE side before sliding the ball past the despairing company.

1 – 0

If the goal nudged NC’s noses in front, then over the next ten minutes they capitalized on this and broke the spirit of NE, effectively ending the game as a contest by half time.

Rafa Guida Masoni is a man who possesses so much skill you wonder how he managed to do anything but play soccer as a child. His ‘street urchin’ skill bamboozled NE all afternoon, the deft lay offs, spins, shimmies, twists, dribbles and willingness to get his foot in, meaning he single handedly shackled NE’s midfield, effectively tying up 2 or 3 players at a time. He is also the engine of NC, and it was his driving play that forced the second goal. When his through ball was intercepted he picked up the rebound and thumped the ball goal wards. His swerving, dipping shot took a deflection off a despairing defender and wrong footed the keeper. 2-0.

The ‘old’, early season NC might have taken their foot off the accelerator.

In this game that was not to be the case. Sensing that NE were reeling from their 2 goal blast, NC pushed home their advantage, creating a stranglehold on the game. Despite being 2 up NC realized how quickly the game could change, so kept on the offensive.

Todd Rainville’s pace has scared every team he has faced. This game was no exception. Allied to his exceptional close control he tormented the NE defense down the right hand side. Only a combination of resolute defending, exceptional keeping and the thinnest of margins (on occasions the width of a goal post) prevented NC from scoring the third goal that so looked like arriving. Throughout this period Rainville was the architect in chief and the constant harrying done by NC’s forwards allied to the pace of these same strikers frightened NE.

The second half started the same way the first had ended. NC expected NE to come flying out of the blocks in an attempt to get back in the game, and NE duly obliged. What the opposition hadn’t reckoned for though was the defensive trio of Brad Stoltz, Akos Kassai and Pablo Velez who each in turn put body and soul in the way of their opponents, stifling them and harrying them into making mistakes. What sets this NC defence apart though is the culture and composition with which they distribute the ball.

Like the great Franz Beckenbauer and Bobby Moore their strength in the tackle is allied to a grace when in possession that allows everyone else to shine. The forwards of NE, just like many other sides this season, never had a sniff of goal when these players were on the pitch.

It was only just and fair that one of the unsung heroes of the NC soccer campaign should score the decisive third goal. Cori Ermler & her partner in crime, Ling Shao, have covered more ground for the team than any other player, in the process showing more determination and grit to be there and help out and developing a sixth sense for being in the right place at the right time. So it was fitting that one of them, on this occasion Cori, should score the goal of the game. Rafa Guida Masoni slipped the ball out wide to the Guillaume de Demandolx. Exhibiting all his usual Gallic flair Guillaume slid down the wing completing the one two with Guida Masoni who had continued his run into the area. Time seemed to stand still at this point, as the keeper came rushing out to take the ball off his feet. The Maestro, however lived up to his nickname, and in slow motion dummied to the right and then slid the ball to the left a millisecond before the keeper got to him. There in support was Cori Ermler, her 40 yard run ghosted her into the area and she lashed the ball home into the now unguarded net. 3-0.

The last ten minutes of the game descended somewhat into a farce.
Recognizing that there was no way back NE began to rotate players.

Congratulations must go to E dog – the section E mascot – who became the first ‘furrie’ to win an HBS Intramural soccer ‘cap’. With their opponents in disarray it was straightforward for NC to score again and then play out the remaining time. Final score, The C 4 – 0 NE.

Having dominated the RC soccer season so comprehensively, NC now face the pride of the EC’s. Uncertain how this will turn out, one thing can be sure. NC have a taste for victory and are eyeing up that HBS-wide soccer title. After such a comprehensive victory in the RC final, who’s to bet against them going one further.

Man of the match – Rafa Guida Masoni. At his magical best throughout.

December 1, 2003
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