Blog Entry No. 2
On Monday, May 23, the Harvard men's soccer team (HMS) traveled to the campus of Korea University to take on the school's soccer team. Three hours prior to the match, HMS was greeted by the athletic director of the university and a respected professor who took the team on a tour of the university. The campus was very modern, consisting of many buildings with elaborate architectural designs and a well-landscaped quad overlooking the athletic facilities. Members of the team agreed that it was a beautiful campus and there were many pictures taken with various affiliates of the university before warm-up preparations began. The people of Korea University were especially keen on chatting and taking pictures with Alex Chi, a Korean American midfielder on HMS. Needless to say, he has attained a somewhat rock star status in our short time here in Korea and this was aided even more by his performance against Korea University on Monday.
A little background on KU's soccer team:
Entering the match, KU had been undefeated against college teams. There are 36 different university men's soccer sides in Korea and KU had not lost to any of them inover a year. KU's squad consisted of two full teams including players who are currently members of the U-20 South Korea national team (our opponent for this coming Monday). Moreover, practically every player on the team enrolls in the university with the intentionof playing professional soccer and they are all physical education majors. They practice six days a week (usually three times a day) in preparation for not just matches against college teams, but also professional teams since KU is eligible to participate in the Korean version of the FA Cup – an open cup in which the best soccer teams in the country compete in a one-and-done tournament to decide the best tourney team in South Korea. Essentially, HMS was taking on a group of 22 future professional soccer players so this was a good side.
And the game had a big game vibe to it too. There were many reporters and supporters there. Furthermore, Korea University organized a pre-game ceremony in which the president of the university addressed the teams and then had the sides pose for pictures just before the match began.
From the get-go, one could tell that the surface would have an impact on the match. Like the practice fields that HMS has utilized thus far, the pitch was an artificial surface that played quickly and took its toll on the legs of the players. Moreover, it was a hot day so the turf absorbed the heat, increasing the temperature of the surface and thus making it that much harder for the players to settle the ball and gain a good tempo early. As the home team, KU had a bit of an advantage and it was not long before they took an early lead inside ten minutes. Losing the ball in its own defensive third, the center of HMS'sdefense was cut open by the KU attacking midfielder who played the ball to KU's No. 10. Austin Harms did well to come out and make himself big so that he saved the initial shot from point blank range. Unfortunately, the rebound fell right to No. 10 who was able to easily slot the ball into the open net from ten yards out.
Fortunately, this goal seemed to enliven HMS, as they battled for the rest of the half, exchanging its fair share of possession with KU and even creating some opportunities through our high work rate and quick counterattack play; our best chance coming on a Brian Rogers breakaway that the KU goalkeeper did well to keep out in order to maintain his team's lead at the interval. Many personal battles developed within this first 45 minutes as well. In the midfield, Scotty Prozeller did what he does best, grinding and fighting against the opposing team's attacking mid on the defensive side of the ball and then orchestrating HMS's build-up from the back when the ball was at his feet. Jamie Rees also had himself a game. The scrappy guy that he is, he drifted from striker tomidfield in order to make himself a nuisance to the opposing team, get in behind the defense whenever he had the chance, and play some short passes in behind the strikers when he was in more of a withdrawn role. Richard Smith seemed to take on the responsibility of marking the opposing team's number 10, who as a member of the South Korean U-20 side and future Olympics participant was a talented player with the ability to break down our defense. Unfortunately, this same number 10 also epitomized wha tHMS has found to be a problem in the South Korean football landscape – diving. All of the players we have gone up against so far have been technically sound footballers, clean with the ball at their feat and disciplined in the tackle and their positioning.
KU still had the better of the play overall and it was not until midway through the second half that HMS was able to get on the scoresheet and turn the tide of the game. Coming on at right midfield, Alex Chi picked up a loose ball at the top of the box and drilled a shot into the lower right hand corner of the goal to tie the game at 1-1. Upping his celebrity status with the goal, Chi came over to the sidelines to celebrate, now a sure bet to receive a post-game interview that he most likely would have gotten had he not even played. From there on, HMS seemed the more likely side to score, as Jamie Rees had a header well blocked by the keeper and Joe Kearney recorded a couple shots of his own on goal. Then with five minutes left to go in the match, Ross Friedman made a spirited run down the right flank. Winning a 50-50 ball, Ross (who has been in good form this entire trip) beat the KU right back with the ball at his feet and then crossed a terrific ball to Ben Tsuda at the corner of the six-yard box. Tsuda headed it across the face of the goal to Jamie Rees who then volleyed the ball with authority into the top corner of the net. The play required great individual efforts from all three players and resulted in a well-deserved goal for Rees who had been running his wild little legs all over the field since the moment the first whistle blew. When the final whistle sounded, HMS was ecstatic to get the win and onecould tell that KU was visibly shaken, as they had not lost a match to mutual university opposition in quite some time. It should also be noted that HMS did well to defend as a unit for nearly 90 minutes; the only exceptions being the ten minute span in the first half when KU got their goal and a KU opportunity in the second half when Harmsy made a fantastic point blank save to keep the score 1-0.
After the match, HMS had the pleasure of joining the KU soccer team, the KU athletic director, and the president of KU for dinner in the dining hall of the university. This was a unique experience, as members of HMS were required to sit a seat apart from one another so that they could be positioned next to KU players. The interaction that ensued required some improvisation on the parts of both HMS and KU, as most of the KU players did not speak English and therefore couldn't hold direct conversations with any HMS players. There were some KU student translators present. However, not every table had a translator so most of the conversation required hand signals and usually resulted in a smile of mutual understanding implying that neither person had any clue what the other person was talking about. Nevertheless, it was fun to eat dinner with the KU team, as they were very respectful and curious of our culture just as we were of theirs. It was especially interesting to hear the president of KU talk since he had nothing but great things to say about HMS and even mentioned how surprised the people of KU were in witnessing HMS win the game, which of course, produced a gracious smile from the HMS coaching staff. The KU president even went so far as to say that he hopes sometime in the future a rematch can be arranged so that the bond between Harvard and Korea University can continue to grow. Coach Junot then reciprocated similar sentiments at the end of the dinner just before HMS headed back to the bus in order to get back to the hoteland call it a successful day.
Although no matches were played on Tuesday the 24th, HMS players and coaching staff concurred that this was one of our favorite days so far in South Korea since we were treated to a tour of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea (courtesy of our guide Johnny who arranged the tour and has been tremendous in showing us around South Korea throughout the trip). Obviously, to the western world, there's a certain mystique that engulfs North Korea so HMS was thrilled to be able towitness North Korea first hand from the southern border of the country. Upon arriving atthe DMZ, HMS was greeted by Sergeant Harden who led the team through a briefing that detailed the history and layout of the DMZ as well as the tour expectations. One of themore surreal aspects of the DMZ is that in the main headquarters, Joint Security Area (JSA), there are buildings in which North Korea and countries of the United Nations Command (e.g. United States, South Korea, Holland, Belgium, etc.) meet to discussforeign affairs. These buildings divide North and South Korea and are manned by North Korean, South Korean, and DMZ guards at all hours of the day. As such, DMZ soldiers are literally face to face with their enemies every second of the day since the North Koreans and DMZ soldiers are in plain view of one another on their respective sides ofthe JSA (building) border. Since people on the tour are guided throughout the JSA and are even allowed to enter into the building in which the North Koreans and UN Command meet, people on the tour can see the North Korean soldiers from afar and can even technically step over the North Korean border when moving to the far end (the North Korean end) of the building once inside. Thus, HMS can say that we entered North Korea even if it was only a few steps over the border. Furthermore, HMS was also shown other features of the DMZ such as Kijong-dong (Propaganda village) and a tunnel connecting North and South Korea. The former is a village lying on the North Korean side of the DMZ, which has a flagpole that stands 525 feet tall and boasts a flag that weighs 600 pounds. Although this village is now for the most part deserted, it still blasts propaganda all of the time in support of Kim Jong-il. Whereas HMS only saw Propaganda village from afar via one of the DMZ checkpoints, HMS was actually able to go inside the afore said tunnel. This was a pretty awesome experience, as HMS encountered one of thelinks between the two countries that the North Koreans had created for the purposes of spying and invading South Korea until discovered by the South Koreans.
Wednesday, the 25th, saw HMS take on Seoul National University of Korea. Although every game is supposed to be just as important as the next, this match had a much different feel than the KU match, as Seoul National University does not have the same soccer reputation as KU. Seoul is known much more for its academics than its athletics. Thus, HMS found it much harder to get up for this game, as it did not have the same big-game feel as the KU encounter. As such, the first half was very frustrating for HMS since they lacked the quality required in the attacking third to break down a team that was placing ten men behind the ball whenever HMS had possession. After our matches against U-18 FC Seoul and KU, our reputation seems to have spread throughout Seoul and it was clear that the Seoul National head coach, who is a former two-time World Cup participant for South Korea, had a strategy to defend as a block of ten and counter quickly when given the chance. Unfortunately for us, his tactics were successful in the first half, as the score ended 0-0 at the interval. In the second half, HMS turned it around and did just about everything we could to win the game. Coach Junot often encourages us to possess with a purpose and in the second half it seemed as if we were fulfilling this ideal, as we created chances through Zack Wolfenzon, Ben Tsuda, Tim Linden, and Jamie Rees. In the end, we were able to score with five minutes left and come out with a 1-0 win. Although HMS was frustrated to only win 1-0, there was still a positive vibe amongst the team, as winning can feel good even when a team doesn't play up to its potential. And besides, on the bright side, HMS continued its lock down play in the back, limiting the chances of the other team so that Brett Conrad easily came away with his second shutout of the trip.
As for the rest of our time here, we have one more big match left against the U-20 South Korea national team on Monday. Until then, we also have a charity event with the South Korea cerebral palsy national soccer team and of course, more cultural immersion.
Thanks for reading.
Harvard Men's Soccer