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The NCAA D2 Championships at Highmark: Pure Soccer for the Pure Fan

Nothing more perfectly encapsulates my experience at the NCAA Division II Championships on Thursday than the words of the Poet Laureate of fútbol, Eduardo Galeano; who once wrote,

Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God.’ And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.”

When you attend a soccer game with a rooting interest, or worse yet, with a writing interest, in watching the game, you often lose sight of the game. You may have a favorite player, and you watch only her. Your team may be losing and you are desperate for a goal, and so you sit on pins and needles with only the attack in mind. You may come with love for some on the pitch and disdain for others. You may have read about one team or the other, giving you preconceived notions of the experience you are about to receive. You are, simply put, not neutral.

Thursday at Highmark Stadium I turned up to watch the Women’s NCAA Division II National Championship semi-final match between Grand Valley State University and The College of Saint Rose. In that sentence, I literally have told you more than I knew when I arrived, since I did not know who was playing. I wandered in, like a child in the middle of a movie, with no frame of reference at all. I just knew that, after two months without the beautiful game in Pittsburgh, there was, at long last, soccer.

And it was glorious.

It was wonderful to be in a place of pure soccer. The fans, mostly parents, had made long trips from the home turf of (checks notes) Albany, New York and Allendale, Michigan to see their girls on the biggest stage of their lives. Sure, there was a cup on the line, but these women had achieved so much already in fashioning dominant seasons and deep tournament runs – everybody was happy to just be there, even in the cold.

That kind of joy, and ignorance, is rare for me, and blissful. It allowed me the chance to appreciate the game on a molecular level. To notice the details.

The way the players accelerate pell-mell to a long ball like their lives depend on it.

The way the lineswoman takes tiny paces to stay even with the last defender.

The way number 16 shrugs off a pressing forward, then a midfielder, to make a 50 yard run up the gut of the opposition.

The way a three-quarter turn to receive the ball with the outside-left foot suddenly seems like an Einsteinian moment of genius.

The way the whole game can change on a centerback mistake.


The specifics of the game may not interest you, but the moments were still fascinating. A dominant and tight-passing Grand Valley attacked in wave after wave, taking a 2-0 lead into the half and looking like they had totally overrun the women of Saint Rose. But Rose grabbed a goal against the run of play to begin the second frame. And even when GVSU took a 3-1 lead late, Rose would not quit – stealing another on the counter-attack and drawing it to 3-2.

In the dying embers of the game, Saint Rose wanted it, but they were utterly gassed. The long runs looked labored; the legs were heavy after a long season.  Although the desire and the desperation was there, the equalizer was ultimately not. The Lakers of Grand Valley would ultimately dispatch the Golden Knights of Saint Rose and advance to Saturday’s final.

It was a visceral experience of joy – I came to see pretty football, and I got it.

What I ‘m saying is: there’s two more games at Highmark this Saturday. A ticket to both matches is just $15.

The Women’s Final will feature Western Washington against Grand Valley State at 12 Noon.

The Men’s Final will be between Cal State LA and Charleston at 3 p.m. 

Go. You should go. No really, go.

I really enjoyed attending the match I saw on Thursday.

I didn’t root for either team. I rooted for soccer. And I most certainly won.


Mark Asher Goodman is a writer for Pittsburgh Soccer Now, covering the Riverhounds, the Pitt Men's and Women's teams, and youth soccer. He also co-hosts a podcast on the Colorado Rapids called 'Holding the High Line with Rabbi and Red.' He has written in the past for the Washington Post, Denver Post, The Athletic, and American Soccer Analysis. When he's not reading, writing, watching, or coaching soccer, he is an actual rabbi. No, really. You can find him on twitter at @soccer_rabbi

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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