New Coach Picks Up The Pieces of M. Soccer
The year 1999 heralded a new era in Harvard men's soccer as John Kerr, a former national player of the year at Duke and NCAA champion, took command of a promising Crimson squad that returned 18 varsity members from the '98 campaign.
Yet a slow start and a challenging schedule that included three nationally ranked opponents doomed any hopes that Kerr and his team had to improve upon last year's performance. The Crimson finished the season at 6-9-2 overall and 3-4 in the Ivy League.
Harvard started the year with four consecutive home games at Ohiri Field, going 1-2-1 in the longest homestand it would have. It lost the season opener to Providence, 3-2, in overtime on a golden goal. This first game embodied a fall season in which Harvard showed flashes of brilliance but found itself prey to mediocrity and mental lapses.
Harvard hosted No. 1 Creighton the following weekend and was soundly beaten, 6-0. Yet Kerr and his squad bounced back the following day to earn their first win of the season against Colombia, 2-1. The fourth and final game of the homestand was a 1-1 overtime tie to cross-town rival Boston University.
The Crimson went on to win only one of its next eight games in a span that included a trip to sunny Palo Alto to participate in a tournament that included teams from UC-Berkeley and Stanford.
With a broken hand suffered by junior co-captain Will Hench, who was kept on the bench for three weeks to recuperate, Harvard's prospects for competing for the Ivy League championship began to dim.
The last game in this grueling eight- game stretch was a crucial home match against Princeton in late October. A win would have propelled Harvard from the depths of the Ivy League into instant contention with No. 8 Yale for the conference championship.
However, the Tigers rallied from a 1-0 deficit to net two goals in the final 15 minutes and drive a stake through the Crimson's slim chances of staging a late-season comeback.
Harvard attempted to rally over the course of its final five games and won four of those matches--twice as many as it had won in the first 12 games of the season. It notched two impressive wins against Ivy League foes Dartmouth and Penn at home, 2-1 and 4-3, respectively.
Crimson senior forwards Hench and Armando Petruccelli capped off their amazing collegiate careers with goals in the season finale versus the Quakers.
Petruccelli finished the season as the team's scoring and points leader for the second consecutive year, as he netted seven goals and four assists for a total of 18 points. Sophomore midfielder Nick Lenicheck finished the year on a high note with 11 points in the final five contests. He also led the Crimson with a team-high eight assists this year.
Petruccelli was also one of three Crimson players to be named to the All-Ivy team last fall. He joined the first team for the second straight year, while junior captain Ryan Kelly and freshman back Mike Lobach were part of the second team.
Despite a difficult first year as coach, Kerr and his staff have plenty to be optimistic about as their attention now turns to the 2000 campaign. With the return of Kelly, Lenicheck, Lobach and freshman defensive back Joe Steffa next year, Harvard brings back a young nucleus that should be able to pick up where it left off at the end of this season.
In spite of its talented roster, the 1999 men's soccer team was unable to fulfill preseason hopes. In a game where only a few inches can change the result of a match, the Crimson was unable to catch any lucky breaks or waves of momentum until late in the year.
Yet Harvard's disappointing season should not be remembered for its win-loss record, but rather as a building block towards reclaiming the Ivy League championship it claimed only three seasons ago.