The disappointment of a shot gone astray was on Harvard junior Kevin Ara’s mind Saturday afternoon.
Redemption was, too.
Just moments earlier, Ara had missed a golden opportunity to give the Harvard men’s soccer team the lead late in the second half against Cornell. His missed shot was followed by a Big Red counterattack that generated a 2-1 lead for Cornell.
But Ara atoned for one missed chance by converting another. The Crimson’s leading scorer made good on a brilliant cross-field pass, directing a header beyond the outstretched hands of Cornell goalkeeper Doug Allan to give the Crimson the tying goal.
Harvard (6-3, 1-0-1 Ivy) held on through two overtimes for the 2-2 tie.
“All season we’ve been a team that never quits,” said Harvard senior back Joe Steffa. “The fact that we were able to come back and get a tie helps our confidence. We know there’s always a chance we’ll pull something out.”
The setting for the game was anything but picturesque. Several dozen loyal fans braved the morning rain to cheer on the Crimson in a game played amid a steady rainfall, worsened by persistent wind.
The usual poetic flow of attack-counterattack was often disrupted by the elements. Long balls sailed over their intended recipients. Corners flew out of bounds. Passes swerved off target.
The Big Red’s second goal resulted from these adverse conditions when a ball skipped between two Harvard defenders, resulting in a Cornell breakaway.
“I definitely think [the weather] was a factor,” Ara said. “It was cold, it was windy, it was rainy. Especially for us, a team that wants to play good soccer, it’s hard to play when it’s wet and the ball skips.”
Cornell scored the lone goal of the first half on a nice individual effort by junior midfielder Ian Pilarski. Bypassing Harvard defenders with moves that prompted several fans to echo joshingly the sanctified name of Diego Maradona, Pilarski put the Big Red on the scoreboard 35 minutes into the game.
Harvard evened the score minutes into the second half, benefitting from a Cornell own goal off a dangerous cross.
Still deadlocked at one apiece with under five minutes remaining in Saturday’s game against, Ara had a great chance to pull Harvard ahead on a scramble play inside the box area.
After ricocheting off several defenders, the ball found its way onto the foot of Ara, who then shot the ball at a seemingly gaping net.
The shot, however, trickled several feet wide. A disappointed Ara could only look forlornly into the abysmal sky as Cornell gained possession and started a rush of its own.
Elusive Cornell sophomore forward Steve Reuter struck on a breakaway off a nice feed from sophomore defenseman Scott Palguta seconds after the Ara miss.
“I think I should have scored,” Ara said. “On a better day, and a little more luck I think I would’ve scored. I don’t think they [Cornell] would have scored on us. We win the game right there.”
Instead, trailing 2-1 with a minute remaining in regulation, the Crimson was forced to battle back.
Quickly setting up a rush into the Cornell end, junior forward Ladd Fritz gained some distance from his defender and sent a pass into the box area, straight at Ara, who finished with a flourish.
“We were lucky to salvage a tie. Tying a team like Cornell, who is at the very bottom of the league, really hurts us,” Steffa said.
Before Ara’s game-tying tally, the two teams had exchanged several scoring chances. Both Cornell and Harvard had breakaway opportunities to go ahead, but the respective goalies were equal to the task. Harvard sophomore Jamie Roth finished with four saves.
Allen had six, but couldn’t deny Ara’s bid for atonement.
“Coach [John Kerr] always tells us it’s not over until the end of the game,” Ara said. “I think he’s done such a good job of keeping us going until the last second of the game. We never give up and everyone believes with him that it’s never over until the end.”
—Contributing writer David Mu can be reached at email@example.com.