The Brazilians call soccer o jogo bonito: The Beautiful Game. They are correct. But that game can sometimes exhibit a beauty that crosses the line into cruelty. I was reminded of this by two former Wildcat soccer stars who still feel the sting of that terrible beauty.
The 1995 state semifinal match-up between the Cats and the Trojans of Findlay High School at Cleveland State’s Krenzler Field will forever be etched in the memory of all those involved. As an assistant to first-year Head Coach Mike McLaughlin ’85, I had the honor of being on the sidelines.
When I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Kaczka ’96 during halftime of this year’s semifinal victory against Medina that game of cruel beauty was the main focus of our conversation. The number of shots each team took is under dispute, but since our total is always calculated to be in the twenties or thirties and the Findlay shot count is always in the low single digits, it can’t be disputed that we controlled the game. With two minutes left in that contest Andy Pillari ’96 scored to make the score 2-1. And that’s how it ended: Trojans 2, Wildcats 1.
At halftime of this year’s final in Columbus I ran into the player who provided the assist on Andy’s goal, Aaron Pechota ’97. We were joyfully discussing the assist that his son Luciano ’22 provided to Everett Shorey ’20 just before the end of the first 40 minutes, and then, as if we were lemmings who could not help rushing over the cliff to the waters below, we were drawn back to Krenzler Field and that game. Even in a situation where his own son did what he could to exorcize the cruel demon of unjust soccer losses, Aaron couldn’t help but ponder the same “what if” that Mike Kazcka wondered four days earlier.
Back at school and still basking in the glow of Sunday night’s game, several players will this afternoon put pen to paper and make their official commitments to several very lucky college soccer programs. Goalkeeper Peter Van Euwen ’20, who closed out his career with four shut-outs, will officially become an Ohio State Buckeye. First team All-Ohio midfield stalwart Kyle Folds ’20 will also be going to the Big Ten, as he signs for perennial national power Indiana. And midfielder Matthew McLaughlin ’20, two-time recipient of the #34 jersey in honor of Jim Skerl ’74, will continue to wear the blue and gold as he embarks upon a career with the Fighting Irish.
Today’s signings bring this incredible season – the first undefeated season in the history of our storied soccer program (48-0-3 combined for the three teams) – to a close. In the twenty-five years since Mike McLaughlin took over, his Wildcats have ended the season with a victory and a big, gold trophy on nine occasions. Nine times – more than any other Ohio high school soccer program, ever.
And what makes number nine so special is not only that these seniors were able to complete their high school careers by lifting a trophy, but also that they achieved it with such incredible beauty. Seldom do (or even can) high school players put on such a performance as the one we witnessed on Sunday night, especially under the pressure conditions of a state final.
This team played with such grace and skill, as well as strength and tenacity, that even those who suffered the terrible beauty of 1995 may be able to sit back and smile – and not only for what was on display at MAPFRE Stadium, but for what they, Mike’s first team, contributed to an incredible night of cruelty-free o jogo bonito.