Saturday morning on the artificial turf of the Knights of Columbus soccer field at the Pontifical Oratory of St. Peter, the Pontifical North American College of Rome's soccer team emerged victorious as they played against the formidable Brazilian College. This was the first game of many to be played as part of the 2010 Clericus Cup, a joint Church and Center for Italian Sport-sponsored tournament between 16 teams representing seminaries from all over the world.
Stalwart defenses characterized game play, and as the end of the match approached, both teams remained scoreless. However, with five minutes to play, the "North American Martyrs" struck gold with a header from close range. The goal was celebrated raucously by more than 20 other priests and seminarians from the North American College (NAC) in attendance, including those dressed as Captain America, Uncle Sam and Batman, who gave their team a decided home field advantage with cheers and chants throughout the match.
Despite the momentary advantage, however, the game was far from over as the obviously exhausted Brazilians were able to muster up a final effort with less than a minute to go. They knocked one in and tied the score at 1-1.
With a draw at the end of regulation, the referees called for a shoot-out to break the deadlock. In the intense exchange of penalty kicks that ensued, the Americans managed to tally up three goals to the Brazilians' two, with a fifth and final Brazilian opportunity remaining to tie up the count and send the game into a second shoot-out. Taking the end of the match into his own hands, the U.S. goalie came up with an enormous third save and sealed the victory.
When asked what this win meant for the NAC, Carmelo, a second-year seminarian in Theology, said that "it was just another victory, but more than anything, it's being able to come out here and have a good time with the other guys and make friends with the guys from the other colleges and seminaries here in Rome."
Another NAC seminarian, Stephen Vrazel, who led cheers throughout the game in an Uncle Sam costume, said "it was a really great game, lot of fun to watch, we've got a really solid team." He added that "it's always fun to see men of faith together playing each other for a good challenge. It was really entertaining, we had a good time, and it was all for the Lord."
This year's tournament marks the fourth year of the Clericus Cup soccer championship, called by some Church's World Cup as it draws seminarians and priests from all over the globe. Last year, the tournament involved 386 athletes from 69 countries.
"Redemptoris Mater" is the team to beat this year, having taken two of the three previous trophies, the second of which came in 2009 when they downed the North American Martyrs squad in the championship game 0-1.