by Kristian Lundberg
Twenty minutes into boys’ soccer’s preliminary round match at Brookline, the “beautiful game” turned ugly.
After the ruckus cleared and order was restored, the night grew even uglier for the Tigers.
Senior Eric Buck’s wonder strike with about 10 minutes left allowed the Warriors to escape with a 1-0 win in a match that featured two red cards and a bench-clearing brawl. With the victory, Brookline avenged its loss in last year’s Sectional Final, in which the Tigers pulled off a remarkable comeback to steal an upset win over their rivals in penalty kicks.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Brookline coach Jeff Katz said. “We had never played them before at full strength, and their record isn’t indicative of how dangerous they are. Our guys played tough and they battled.”
While this year’s tournament rematch featured two equally skilled teams, gone was the precise passing and elegant team play. Squaring off in front of a hostile crowd at Brookline’s Skyline Field, both teams shifted their style of play to a physical, no-nonsense chess match in the quest to score the all-important first goal. As a result, both sides battled for every 50-50 ball and played with a physicality rare even for a tournament match.
“We needed to be composed defensively, so I had to call a timeout because the players weren’t getting the ball out of their space quick enough,” Katz said. “Our guys had to adjust from playing prettier, so we committed to a different style.”
According to coach Roy Dow, the intensity of the rivalry escalated because the squads had grown accustomed to playing each other.
“Familiarity can bring a certain level of competition,” he said. “These are two strong schools, and it was a well-publicized game.”
The intensity reached a fever pitch when Brookline committed a hard foul near the far sideline, sending a player from both teams sprawling while the referees raced over to control the situation.
Meanwhile, due to the lack of seating, a multitude of spectators congregated along the far sideline to watch the game, with some fans meandering across the sideline and a few inches onto the field to gain a better view. No security staff or administrators were present at the beginning to ward off the encroaching fans, so by the time the two teams kicked off, the crowd formed a wall along the sideline stretching to both ends of the field.
Seeing the rough foul, players from both squads rushed over, while the fans who were only a few feet from the action also became involved. Instantly chaos broke loose, as a swarm of fans and players entangled themselves in a confused scrum. By the time the dust settled and the referees and coaches restored order, red cards were handed out to both teams, and play resumed with both teams down a man.
“Do I agree with the referees’ decision? Not particularly, to be honest,” Dow said. “Still, I prefer, if there is a fight, that red cards are handed out.”
Dow added the tension “was palpable during the game.”
“They definitely wanted to exact a little revenge,” he said. “We came prepared, and so did they. It was an intense game all-around.”
In the second half, the intensity picked up even more on the field, with teams trading chances like baseball cards. Senior Nick Knaian for the Tigers and senior Miles Rubin for the Warriors both came up big, stopping key chances in net, and the two defenses withstood the barrage of offensive pressure.
“I think we were able to solve their defense,” Dow said. “We got our chances, but we couldn’t capitalize on them.”
Just when it seemed the match was destined for overtime, the Tigers’ defense finally broke down late in the second half. A cross was partially cleared out to the top of the box, and the ball fell perfectly for Buck, who hammered a left-footed volley towards the low right corner. Knaian dove to his left, but he was not able to reach the well-placed shot, and the roar from the crowd signified enough. The Warriors had found an unlikely breakthrough that ultimately carried them to the first round of the playoffs.
“I saw it bounce and kicked it as hard as I could,” Buck said. “As I kicked it, I thought about last year and how much we wanted to win. It’s an unreal feeling.”
After the brawl, security arrived to clear the fans a few yards away from the sideline. Nevertheless, Brookline students stormed the field after the final whistle blew, instigating a scene of mass celebration.
According to Dow, the Tigers played well even in the loss.
“We went out there and played the way we wanted to–this game really could have gone either way,” he said.
“The fight is going to grab all the headlines, but it distracts from the fact that it was a well-played game overall. It was a high class game, so it’s a pity that there was a fight.”