It was an ominous, cold fall day, when the Harvard Business School Club Soccer team took the field in New Haven, Connecticut to begin what was expected to be a long, grueling weekend requiring a gutsy performance from the 16 individuals who made the trip for the annual Yale Graduate School Invitational. Within the next two days, six wins would be needed to bring the title “Champion” back to Boston once again.
In the face of adversity, haunted by injury and the absence of a number of starting members of the team, HBS took the field to begin its journey against the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. “You can never look past your first opponent, no matter how big a difference in talent it seems exists between the two sides; just ask Tom Brady and the Patriots of Super Bowl XLII,” said Brian Kirschbaum, Co-President of the HBS Soccer Club. “Pittsburgh was just coming off a big win the preceding fall over the Cardinals, and rumor had it that big Ben Roethlisberger had been providing comforting words of motivation to the Tepper side prior to their seven-hour trip from Pittsburgh.”
Regardless, Tepper was no match for the Harvard side. The business students came out strong from the first whistle, drawing first blood from the left foot of Spaniard Alex de Mur, Co-President of the HBS Soccer Club. A product of Barcelona, Alex received the ball with his left foot, cut across the middle and hit a trickler through the legs of the Tepper keeper. Over the next 40 minutes, HBS would receive two goals from Pedro Zemel, including a left-footed booming shot preceded by an ankle-breaking step-over mirroring fellow Brazilian Ronaldinho (Joga Bonito!), as well as a goal from Paolo Di Giacomo. At the final whistle, HBS would walk away with a crucial 4-1 win, looking forward to the next game against the home team Yale.
Coming off a 5-1 blood bath against a local club team, the home side was out for vengeance against HBS. With 100,000 divided by 104 in attendance, most of which came in support of the Bulldogs, HBS faced an uphill battle. Yale came out strong, winning a majority of the 50-50 balls as well as dominating the possession game. However, the defense, led by Captain Ben Thomas, never broke. “I saw some bending in the team at half-time, so I sat the players down and with the utmost confidence of a McKinsey consultant, I said, in the words of legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockney, ‘Show me a good and gracious loser, and I’ll show you a failure’ and I think that rung true with all the wannabe Baker Scholars on the team.” The Yale School of Management could not find the net as Carlos Julia Cano earned his first shutout of his career and was awarded “Man of the Match”, which is not actually an award, but if it was, he would deserve it. HBS kept its dreams alive with a 0-0 win against Yale, and now it entered the final game before the playoffs against a local New Haven All-Star club team.
Technically, HBS needed only to keep the game close to move onto the next round, given its performance thus far in the tournament. However, the team did not sit back and rest on its laurels. They quickly struck in the first half with two goals from Paolo Di Giacomo and one goal from Chad Klascius to take a 3-0 advantage into half-time. The All-Star club team did not know what hit them. They had expected to walk over HBS as they did over Yale but were stunned by the tenacity and drive exhibited by the team from Boston. When asked after the game what had happened after the Yale game to light a fire underneath the team, Chad Klascius responded, “I think we finally learned: war is hell.” At the final whistle, the war was won by HBS (3-1), and they rolled onto the playoffs the next day.
Sunday came, and it quickly became apparent the elements would be against the soccer players on this day. It was anyone’s game to win with the temperature hovering around freezing and dark clouds covering the field with rain. The game was hard-fought by both sides with HBS claiming a dominant performance but unable to put it in the back of the net. It was clear one of the teams was going to need a mighty, gutsy player to step up and put the game on his shoulders. That player would be Charles “Benjamin Button” Huang. The game culminated in a tie: 1-1. This quarterfinal championship game immediately went into a shootout to see who would move on to the Semi-Finals. Charles Huang, who had been providing a soothing presence as the Central Defender, stepped in as goalie to become a dominating force during the shootout, saving 3 out of 5 shots. In addition, with the game on the line, Charles stepped up and scored the fifth and final shot of the shootout, taking HBS into the semi-finals against IPADE, the business school of Universidad Panamericana in Mexico.
By this point, HBS was hampered by injury and limited to 13 players. However, the players never gave up, even after they went down 2-0 in the first 10 minutes against IPADE. HBS showed the grit with which they began the tournament, fighting back to tie the game 2-2 on the shoulders of goals from Pedro Zemel and Paolo Di Giacomo. However, on this day, HBS would not come out on top, giving up a heart-breaking goal in extra minutes that was aided by the mud pile that had formed in the middle of the 6-yard box. Their journey would come to an end.
If the weather had not been so bad, maybe HBS would have come out on top; if HBS was not hampered by injury, maybe their journey would have continued; and if the ball kicked in the 90th minute had not taken a bad bounce on the mud-ridden field, maybe this story would continue. However, these conditions did exist and as Tony D’Amato (played by Al Pacino) said “On any given Sunday you’re gonna win or you’re gonna lose. The point is-can you win or lose like a man?” In the end, as the Harvard football team had done in 1968 in the storied battle against Yale that was documented by Kevin Dafferty, HBS fought hard from the first until the last whistle, and for this they declared victory.
Brian Kirschbaum is currently a second-year student at Harvard Business School and a member of Old B (the BEST section). He is also Co-President of the HBS Soccer Club.