M. Soccer Welcomes Old Rival

The players on Harvard’s men’s soccer team don’t hate Princeton. At least they say they don’t.

“They’re just like any other Ivy League School,” said senior midfielder Jon Napper.

Still, the Crimson players will have a hard time denying the two teams’ recent history of ugly fouls, nail-biting matches and heartbreaking finishes.

The rivalry—which has seen Harvard and Princeton deal crushing blows to one another’s title hopes in consecutive seasons—continues this Saturday

when the Tigers (4-4-3, 1-1-1 Ivy) face off against the Crimson (5-3-4, 0-2-1) on Ohiri Field at 1:30 p.m.

Last year, a scoreless tie persisted till the final 10 minutes when Princeton striker Matt Douglas sent the game-winning goal that into the back of the net, and left then sophomore goalkeeper Jamie Roth watching the shot.

The loss was Harvard’s first in Ivy League play, crippling its title chances. Penn ended up tying for the league crown with Dartmouth.

“That game,” captain Andrew Old said, “was a turning point in our season.”

Last year’s game was also characterized by intense, and sometimes dirty, play. Seven yellow cards were flashed in the first 62 minutes.

Old said he does not foresee any similar problems this year. However, he does acknowledge that passion tends to take over in some of the biggest league games.

“Tempers flare, and cards do get thrown out,” he said.

 The 2001 version of the Harvard-Princeton soccer rivalry saw its fair share of spoiling heroics too—and fouls.

During a cold, 10-minute downpour on an otherwise sunny day, then sophomore Ladd Fritz scored the game’s only goal in the 23rd minute.

Amidst slippery conditions on a muddy field, Princeton committed 16 fouls and Harvard added 10. The game ruined Princeton’s undefeated Ivy season, forcing them to share the conference title with Brown—a team the Tigers beat 3-0 the following week.

This year, the Crimson again hopes to defeat Princeton at Ohiri Field. So far, the Crimson has had a tough year in the Ancient Eights as it continues to look for its first win in league play.

The defense, led by Old and sophomore goalkeeper Ryan Johnson, has been consistently stingy. Outside of last week’s 3-0 loss to Brown—in which two of the goals were scored off of penalties and the third came off of a deflection—the Harvard defense has not surrendered more than one goal in over a month. On Sept. 20 the defense let up four in a loss to Hartford.

It is the offense—largely considered one of the team’s strengths in the offseason—which has failed to convert.

Harvard is leading the Ivy League in shots, but has failed to finish on goals in big games. It has only one multiple-goal game since a Sept. 26 3-2 win over Duke.

“We’ve been creating chances,” Napper said Wednesday. “It’s just a matter of the shots going in.”

The team has also been plagued by old-fashioned bad luck. In a 1-0 loss to Yale, the deciding goal came on a penalty kick after a Harvard handball in the box.

The loss was followed by a disappointing tie against Cornell a week later, as the Big Red scored their only goal on a Pape Seye shot from 30 yards out.

“[We weren’t] getting much luck from the soccer gods,” Napper said.

Old agreed.

“I think we’ve been unlucky so far,” he said. “But you can’t just blame 2 losses and a tie on luck. We want to prove that we are a good team. [Our 0-2-1 Ivy record] is not acceptable for our standards.”

Fatefully, the Crimson will have a chance to improve that mark against one of its fiercest rivals.

And while Napper may deny the team’s enmity towards Princeton, he can’t deny the importance of Saturday’s game.

“We’ve got a lot to prove,” he said.