It wasn’t the best day on the field for the Bloomington boys soccer team yesterday against Santa Monica in the Division IV quarterfinals. In fact, it might have been one of the worst as far as on-field production was concerned.
The Bruins, winners of six straight games to surge into the playoffs from a 1-4-1 record in the Sunkist League, weren’t able to get a seventh on the unbeaten Vikings. In fact, Bloomington was victimized for seven goals in a 7-0 rout. But in an otherwise humbling defeat, the Bruins’ integrity and class showed up brighter than ever.
In soccer, the line between good, hard play and dirty chippiness is a thin one. In a lopsided game, that line is crossed over pretty regularly. In covering soccer at all levels, from high school to Division I to the MLS, I’ve seen countless lopsided soccer games turn into cheap-shot fests, with trips, high slide tackles and even the occasional flying kick. Words are said, pushes are given and as a reporter, you just hope the game ends without someone seriously being hurt.
These methods are never justified, but the Bruins – who gave up four goals in a six-minute span of the first half – could have easily found themselves trying to stick it to Santa Monica in frustration. But Bloomington refused to do that, playing hard and clean and continuing to battle despite the impossible score. They didn’t play the cheap shot game and I saw very little, if any, trash-talk toward the Santa Monica players.
One exchange in the second half really stood out to me. With the Vikings up 6-0, one of their players fell to the Bloomington turf with an injury after having collided with a Bruins player while pursuing a ball. The officials didn’t see the Viking on the turf clutching his ankle, so the whistle wasn’t blown. However, the Bloomington player who got possession of the ball saw the injured player and kicked the ball out of bounds intentionally, stopping play long enough to for the officials to see the injured player and for the Santa Monica training staff to tend to him. The Vikings were appreciative of the gesture. On the next throw-in, Santa Monica defenseman Nicholas Ferro threw the ball to midfielder Charlie Paris, who softly kicked the ball out of bounds intentionally to give Bloomington the ball back where they had it before the injury. Honestly, I’ve never seen matching displays of sportsmanship to that effect on a soccer field and I thought it was extremely cool.
Bloomington’s class in a rough situation didn’t only stand out to me, but to Vikings coach James Chapman: “Bloomington showed a great deal of class today. Usually when we have a game like this, there are cheap shots everywhere and you just hope that no one gets hurt. But Bloomington played hard, played clean and really impressed me. They are a class team and they play and conduct themselves the right way.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.