Soccer hosts Haiti in benefit game

by Marjorie Chelius | 4/10/11 10:00pm

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04.11.11.Sports.HaitiGame
by Zach Kuster and Zach Kuster / The Dartmouth

The game against the Big Green was only one in the Haitian team's five-day benefit tour through New England. The team ranked 99th in the world out of 202 teams by FIFA next traveled to Cambridge, Mass., where it beat Harvard University in penalty kicks on Sunday.

Despite the loss, Dartmouth players said they were generally pleased with their performance.

"It took us a little while to get into the rhythm of the game, get confident, and get comfortable," Adam Rice '12 said. " During the second half we really started to take control of the game and all in all it was a good performance for us, especially for the first game."

Forward Maarten van Ess '12 said the Haitian team offered a higher level of competition than Dartmouth has faced before.

"Usually when you're playing against a team a team will have two to three specific weaknesses," head coach Jeff Cook said. "And they were just very strong in every aspect of their game."

Players added that Haiti played with a different style than they usually face, demonstrating a large amount of creativity and utilizing its width well. The free-flowing nature of the Haitian team's play forced Dartmouth to adjust quickly.

"[It] was definitely no New England soccer," van Ess said. "New England soccer is up and down, it doesn't use your [width] as much."

Players also said the Big Green struggled with its transition during the game.

"We played defense really well but when we got the ball, we were just kind of kicking it away, not finding players' feet and not being able to connect from defense to offense," van Ess said. "But we made a significant improvement in the second half which made us stay in the game."

Beyond the game itself, team members said the were pleased with the event as a whole. The game was held in conjunction with PIH which was co-founded by College President Jim Yong Kim and intended to raise money for its relief efforts in Haiti, which is still recovering from the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck in January 2010. The game itself was free for spectators, but donations were accepted to benefit PIH.

"We were obviously aware of the devastation caused by the earthquake, and with the combination of President Kim being involved with PIH, it was natural," Cook said, adding that Kim's administration and the athletic department provided significant logistical support for the game's buildup. "The game was set up for donations, the primary purpose of the game was to support PIH."

There was an incredible turnout for the game, with the stands full with both students and community members.

"On the field [the Haitian players] could have been from anywhere, they could have been any team, but it was the desire to compete and to win that brought us together," Rice said. "They were just a bunch of guys out there playing for their country, in the same way that we were playing for Dartmouth."

Van Ess said he realized how important the game was moments after the game ended, when players from both teams shook hands. The Haitian players, who spoke little to no English, had made a point to learn the phrase, "Thank you for the game."

"The thing that really hit home about the event was how grateful the Haitian team was," van Ess said. "After the game, we went up and said, Good luck at Harvard,' and the only thing [the Haitian players] said back was, Thank you for the game.' It meant more for their country than just a soccer game."

Rice said Dartmouth's play gave the team "a lot of encouraging signs" for its next season. Prior to playing against Haiti, the Big Green had only been practicing as a team for less than two weeks. Rice said he hopes the team can continue to build on its progress this spring.

Dartmouth's game against Haiti was its first this spring. It followed its second NCAA Sweet 16 appearance in the last three years, which ended in a double-overtime defeat to the University of California, Los Angeles on Nov. 28.

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