The Harvard men's soccer team needed to outscore Boston University last night to get back into the New England title race.
The Terriers had to outplay the Crimson to reaffirm their number-three ranking in the region and remain contenders for an NCAA bid.
But first, somebody had to outguess the unpredictable turf of Nickerson Field.
Not an easy task.
The ball bounced everywhere but in goal on the hard, artificial surface, leaving Harvard and B.U. deadlocked, 0-0, after regulation and two ten-minute overtimes.
"On such a poor suface for soccer, you're going to have very few goals," Harvard Coach Mike Getman said. "It's unfortunate that two teams of this quality have to play on such a field."
Nickerson Field, which does double-duty as the home surface for the B.U. football team, is harder, bouncier and narrower (65-ft. wide compared to 75-ft. wide Ohiri Field) than the standard soccer surface.
The Crimson--which likes to go wide when pushing the ball up the field--started with a cramped and hesitant running game in the first half, trying to anticipate the reaction of the ball and create chances out of the corners.
But the opportunities hopped, skipped and jumped away.
"We waited on balls we should have gone to because we didn't know if it would skip or bounce or what," Getman said. "It was really a ping-pong game."
B.U., familiar with the unpredictability of its home surface, slammed long balls down the field rather than repeating Harvard's mainly futile attempts to control the ball and maintain possession in the midfield.
"We created more chances off regular plays," Harvard Captain Robert Bonnie said. "We got it into corners and knocked some balls across. Their stuff was pounded up to the poles."
Harvard made several well-placed cross passes, but finishing off scoring opportunities continued to be a problem for the Crimson. In nine games this season, Harvard has scored only 11 goals (1.2 goals-per-game average).
"We played some good balls in but we couldn't settle the ball," Getman said. "We just had to kick it and run."
The Crimson--frustrated by an inability to play its style of soccer--fell back to play defense and concentrated on preventing rather than scoring goals for much of the second half. Following a pair of runs by senior left wing Ramy Rajballie minutes after halftime, the Crimson failed to pressure offensively for a ten-minute span.
Meanwhile, the Terriers--who had not had a shot on goal the entire first period--decided to test Crimson goalie Stephen Hall for the final 65 minutes. B.U. forward Jorge Zapata managed to head in a ball off a cornerkick in the second overtime, but the goal was negated when the referee called a Terrier foul on the play.
"They had some chances, but they didn't do a lot with them," Hall said. "They weren't very dangerous."
Sophomore sweeper Nick Gates anchored the Crimson defense, defusing several B.U. attacks before the Terriers could get off a shot.
The game was billed as a must-win situation for the struggling Crimson (5-2-2 overall, 0-1-1 in New England action) and a key opportunity for B.U. (7-2-3) to move up in the regional rankings.
"[The tie] doesn't kill us," Bonnie said. "It's no different than before. We still have to win them all."
THE NOTEBOOK: The Terriers outshot the Crimson, 15-10, but Harvard had more cornerkick opportunities (eight to B.U.'s five)...Hall made seven saves and earned his second straight shutout (fourth for the season). Terrier goalie Jeff Hooper recorded three saves...The Crimson's only other turf contest this season will be November 4 against Penn in Philadelphia...Senior Gian D'Ornellas started at right back for the first time since injuring his ankle in the UConn game September 21...Harvard gets another crack at improving its regional record when it faces Ivy and New England foe Dartmouth on Saturday morning in Hanover, N.H.