The 1978 men's soccer team finished with a disappointing 5-9-1 record, and as is usual with a losing record, a lot of dissension has surfaced in the ranks. What makes this case noteworthy is that the grumblings--mainly about Coach George Ford--have been heard before.
Ford, in his fifth year as Harvard soccer coach, in which he has compiled 26-33-9 record, started with the most talented group of players he has had. So, what went wrong?
You talk to 25 different coaches and players, you get 25 different explanations: the bench says they were not used often enough, the starters complain they were taken out too quickly, the coach says he does not like to substitute players.
But in all of this confusion, there seem to be some common threads. First of all, there is the Bad Start. Bad is putting it mildly for an 0-5 start when there are only 15 games in a season.
It was the first two games especially that seemed to do in the Crimson. Looking at the schedule, MIT and Columbia seemed to be a nice relaxed way to break into the season. But Harvard hit the goalpost several times, tired, and lost both games.
Harvard did not realize that the team they almost knocked off would go on to be the Ivy champs. "They turned out to be one of the best teams in the Northeast, and we thought they were just Columbia," Dave Eaton said earlier in the week.
After two frustrating losses, it would have been easy for the booters to fall apart. They did not. But they did not put it all together either. They seemed to achieve an awkward state of limbo, playing well but losing, controlling the ball but not scoring.
Gooseeggs--the major problem in an eggshell, was that the Crimson did not score. In particular, Lee Nelson, with 13 goals the previous year, and Walter Diaz, who had scored six in 1977, had been expected to carry the scoring load. Instead, Nelson ended up with no goals, and Diaz tallied only five to lead the team.
The pathology of the 1978 season lies in these statistics. For Nelson and Diaz, it was an exasperating season. "I hit the post a number of times, I never got that first one," Nelson said. "I always expected that first goal to come, and it never did."
And Diaz said, "If it weren't for the other players, this season would have been very little fun." Part of the problem was strategy. "We began by stressing defense, but we just overdid it," Michael Smith said. And Nelson felt the problems began at midfield. "Your halfback line? That's where it's got to begin. I don't think we dominated midfield to a great degree."
But Coach Ford thinks the offense was clicking. "We created chances that were easier than the year before. We just couldn't put them in." Ford said yesterday. He felt that Nelson and Diaz put too much pressure on themselves.
But, according to many of the players, starters and benchriders. Ford was the cause of the added pressure. He rode the forwards continuously, he constantly made personnel changes, he stripped his scorers of their confidence. And here lies the reason for that curious state of limbo--although the players kept playing hard, they were playing to please Ford rather than to win, as one team member said.
In one sense, Ford was just trying to find the ever-elusive winning combination as he juggled lineups all season. But, he apparently failed to communicate with the players, and most did not know where they stood.
"After the first few games. I think we panicked a little in the players we used," Smith said toward the end of the season. "The coach was always blaming the players," Tony Castro said. "But if you're out there, you are devoting your time and effort. They were nervous."
And Tom Hsiao said, "When I would get the ball, I would be scared to do things with it. Because if I would make a mistake I would be taken out."
It's all been said before. Ford has made great strides before, and Athletic Director John P. Reardon says, "We do not go around and dismiss our coaches right and left," implying Ford will be back next fall.
And the team's new captain, John Sanacore, feels things will be all right. "He knew he made some coaching mistakes, but that's all right. Those are the things one learns from. Next year, George will be a little more relaxed with the team." ...If it does not get off to another 0-5 start.