The Harvard men's soccer team edged Penn 1-0 on Saturday at Ohiri Field on the strength of a penalty kick by sophomore midfielder Kevin Ara and a huge penalty shot save by senior keeper Danny Mejias.
The Crimson can clinch the Ivy title outright next weekend at home with either a tie of a win against defending champion Brown. The win also puts the Crimson in excellent shape to snag one of the 48 NCAA tournament bids that will be handed out next week.
Harvard (10-3-1, 5-1 Ivy) was coming off a big 1-0 road win against Columbia the weekend before. Sophomore Ladd Fritz's lone goal against the Lions earned him Ivy Player of the Week honors. The Crimson defense has been solid all year long, only letting up one goal in the previous seven matches.
"With so many shutouts in the season, this game is too easy for our defense," senior defender Michael Lobach said.
Penn (6-8-1, 2-4 Ivy) came into Saturday's game on its coldest streak of the year. They had lost their last four games, including 3-0 drubbing from Princeton last weekend.
The Crimson did not waste any time getting on the board. Less than seven minutes into the game freshman forward Jeremy Truntzer took a pass from Fritz and beat a defender in the box before getting fouled hard from behind.
Ara calmly slotted the resulting penalty shot into the right corner of the net to give the Crimson the early 1-0 lead.
Truntzer had another chance minutes later when he beat a defender and ripped a low shot just to the left of the far post.
Neither team had many serious chances for the rest of the half, and Harvard controlled most of the play. The Crimson back line, anchored by Lobach, looked solid once once again as Penn failed to put together a dangerous attack.
As many students moved over to Ohiri after the football game at the start of the second half, Harvard began to create more chances in the Penn third.
As the half wore on, Penn mounted its own attack.
About 15 minutes into the second frame, Penn freshman forward Joe Klein was fouled in the Crimson box. Junior midfielder Nathan Kennedy nailed a shot that was labeled for the upper left corner before Mejias dove and pushed the ball over the net with his left hand to make the biggest save of the season for the Crimson.
With the Penn midfielders now pushing forward, Harvard had plenty of chances to extend the lead to 2-0.
Fritz created quality chances up front, beating defenders and putting shots on goal. Quaker sophomore keeper Matthew Haefner came up big again and again as he repeatedly turned away Crimson shots.
Haefner ended up with six saves on 12 Crimson shots. With a 6'4 frame, he forced the Crimson to put many of their crosses near the top of the box instead of near the penalty spot.
The Crimson defenders and midfielders continued to mark tightly as the clock ticked down. Seniors Michael Peller and Joe Steffa won balls in the midfield, not allowing Penn to build up an attack.
Penn's only other serious chance came with less than three minutes left in regulation. Quaker sophomore midfielder Louis Laza headed a ball off of a scramble in the box that deflected off of the top of the crosbar and over the net. Harvard held on for the 1-0 win, setting up a key match-up this weekend against Brown.
"We're the best team in New England right now and we're on our way to proving it," Peller said after the game.
While the rest of campus heads to Yale next Saturday for "The Game," the men's soccer team will try to secure an outright Ivy Title, its first since 1996, against Brown at Ohiri Field.