Faculty Soccer Team 1 – EC Men’s Soccer Team 0
ECs Experience the Learning Model Outside of the Classroom
Last Monday, Harvard’s Ohiri Field was host to the HBS Faculty-EC student soccer classic. Looking to build on a quarterfinal finish in last fall’s Yale cup and a second place finish in group play in the Texas MBA Soccer Tournament last winter, the HBS EC Soccer team entered this fall with high expectations for the upcoming season. With most of its 22-man squad boasting collegiate experience, many of the EC’s were surprised to see the early-season game with a short-handed HBS faculty squad on the fall schedule.
The faculty, led by Diego Comin, Asis Martinez-Jerez, Josh Coval, Peter Coles, Jason Riis, Eric Werker, Jordan Siegel, Joan Farre-Mensa, Anita Elberse, and Aldo Musacchio, boasted an average age of 40 and a total of six pair of soccer cleats between them.
Looking to overcome their lack of fitness with their vast experience and guile, the faculty squad retained a quiet confidence that they could keep the game close. Anita was also able to recruit Edgar Davids, Holland international player, ex-Ajax and ex-Juventus, and a few enthusiastic (and fit) RC players to round out the squad. As a loud whistle announced the beginning of the game and more and more HBS students filled the bleachers to cheer their friends and classmates, the first attacks from the EC team appeared to point to inevitable victory.
Indeed, the game began with a bang, with numerous EC chances at goal in the first few minutes. Only the heroics of HBS grad and netminder Marc-Kwesi Farrell kept the EC off the scoreboard. A point blank miss by Stephen Burn-Murdoch stood out later in Davids’ mind. He commented later, “A typical Brit. Can’t finish when the game’s on the line.”
With the EC’s in command, their confidence was fully evident, with Andy Miller urging on his teammates, “Come on guys. This one’s in the bag.” The Faculty team largely restricted itself to defending and the occasional Davids-led counterattack, which consisted of his stealing the ball, dribbling through half of the EC team, and then trying a long shot on goal. Davids appeared to be enjoying himself until he was knocked down from behind for the third or fourth time. As Davids put it later, “I always have to deal with guys like these trying to take a shot at me. They want to be able to go home and tell their friends that they stole the ball from Edgar Davids. But somehow I’m pretty sure they leave out the part where they got nutmegged and then lunged at me from behind.”
The game slowly settled down and, although each team had its chances, the minutes went by and the deadlock remained. Having used all their subs within the first twenty minutes, the faculty team’s age and inferior numbers were clearly on display. But with each failed EC attack, the cohesion and confidence of the faculty defenders swelled. As Aldo put it to his teammates at the time, “Time is on our side. As the beers from this weekend begin to take their toll, the EC team will stop making their runs, start taking poor shots, and become increasingly stressed that they may actually lose the game.” The EC continued their pattern of fast runs through the right, a cross to the top of the penalty box, followed by an off-target shot by Brandon Levy, Stephen Burn-Murdoch, or Juan Franck. The Faculty team did what they could, a pass to Davids, who then gave it to speedy RC player John Hillman on the left, and then a pass to center, where Faculty strikers Comin, Riis, and Coval attempted to put the ball on goal. But the game reached a stalemate, with few clear opportunities and no one appearing to have the upper hand.
Gradually, the faculty team seemed to grow more comfortable while the EC players grew frustrated. As Asis put it, “We’re used to being tired and under attack and we appreciate the importance of maintaining a well-coordinated and united front. Most of us have young kids at home.”
The EC players, on the other hand, seemed to stop coordinating and communicating and, as a consequence, their defense grew increasingly porous. Referee and EC team member Tom Dye tried to counter their inevitable demise with blatantly favorable calls. But as Davids commented later, “It was a textbook example of the importance of teamwork. The professors taught them a great lesson. It’s easy to be a team when things are going your way. But when things become challenging, strong teams solidify and weak ones fragment.”
Around minute 30 of the game, the EC weakness was finally exposed. Collecting a long pass from the midfield, Professor Diego Comin beat his marker into the box, faked a shot to the right, waited for the EC goalie Juan Camargo to commit, and then buried the ball in the bottom left corner, scoring the one and only goal of the game. As he raced past the EC bench in celebration, he noted, “They looked so sad and demoralized. I actually felt a bit bad for them. But I don’t think they would have liked it if we had rolled over and let them win.”
The game continued but the Comin strike had clearly taken the wind out of the EC team sails. A few half-hearted runs and long-distance shots later and the whistle sounded. There was a bit of confusion at this point as to whether the whistle concluded the game or merely the first half. As the professors regrouped to contemplate their second half strategy, they were shocked when EC captain Juan Fernandez came over and pleaded, “No Mas.” As Davids put it later, “I was a little surprised the game was over after only 45 minutes, but judging from the way things were going, I guess the EC’s just don’t have what it takes to play at this level.”
As the sun set over the Harvard Stadium, the Faculty team congratulated itself and expressed hope that that Dean Nohria’s “soccer bonus” for having beaten the EC students for the first time in modern history would be forthcoming in their next paychecks. Davids summed up the afternoon perfectly, “It felt like playing in Holland. We played with such passion and dexterity. We epitomized the notion of a team. The students were taught a valuable lesson today.”