Harvard's Dilemma: To Root For UCLA?

It’s a classic dilemma in sports: do you root for the team that beat your team?

Both sides are clear and have good points.

On the one hand, you want vengeance—you don’t want to see those who inflicted so much anguish on you to experience nothing but glory. You want them to feel your pain.

On the other hand, it validates your team to say that you lost to the best. Maybe your team didn’t go all the way, but at least it was better than the pack. Just like you want your squad to go down fighting, you’d like to see them fail only against the best. It leaves a number of optimistic “what-if” scenarios to ponder during the long offseason.

With this in mind, I wonder what the talk has been amongst the members of the Harvard men’s soccer team lately.

This past Friday, the UCLA men’s soccer team upset fourth-seeded Virginia squad to advance to the finals of the College Cup—collegiate soccer’s March Madness.

Why did it matter that the Bruins earned a spot in the national championship game? Because just under a month ago, UCLA sent a promising Crimson squad home for the winter with a sound 3-0 defeat in the second round of the tournament. Harvard had entered the postseason as the highest-scoring team in the country and, after a gritty win over Binghamton at home in the opening round, looked like it might have the promise to go far.

But alas, for the Crimson faithful and the 26 players on the roster, it was not meant to be. Their title dreams were destroyed on a warm Los Angeles night.

Fast forward to Sunday and take a jump to frigid, snow-covered St. Louis. UCLA, which was seeded eighth at the beginning of the tournament, was playing neighboring University of California at Santa Barbara, for the title.

In the end, the Bruins could not quite get over the last hump—they fell by a 2-1 final—but had proven themselves a powerhouse along the way. The only goals that UCLA allowed in the run-up to the championship game were to a talented Duke team in the quarterfinals. In its other games after beating Harvard, the Bruins routed Clemson and Virginia.

And this brings us back around to the Crimson. While it cannot say that it lost to the best, Harvard can still take some solace in the fact that UCLA was clearly one of the elite teams in the country.

Let me add an addendum: the Crimson lost, and quite badly at that, cutting short any hopeful optimism that might have been surrounding the team. There is simply no denying this reality.

But yet, Harvard did not choke against a weak opponent—it fought and held on for the win against Binghamton—and was forced to play after a tough cross-country trip. The Crimson fell to an eventual finalist and a very talented squad.

I can’t figure out what regrets might be going through the mind of Ivy League Player of the Year Charles Altchek, or what Ivy Rookie of the Year André Akpan might be thinking about what could have been. But for their sake, I hope UCLA’s achievement helps to validate how successful this year’s Harvard Crimson really was.

—Staff writer Gabriel M. Velez can be reached at gmvelez@fas.harvard.edu.

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