With his team having scored more than one goal only once since Sept. 26 and his two starting forwards still feeling the effects of nagging injuries, Harvard men’s soccer coach John Kerr decided it was time to change up the lineup—even if meant benching some of his most prolific offensive players Saturday against Princeton.
Freshman Matt Hoff—whose goal on Saturday brought his team-leading total to six—and Brian Charnock (two goals, four assists) didn’t see the field for the first 60 minutes of the match.
The time off from the game and practices earlier in the week gave their bodies some much needed rest, but forced Kerr to start sophomore Anthony Tornaritis and freshman Charles Altchek at the forward slots.
Typically, Tornaritis—who is tied for first on the team with four assists—is used as a wing midfielder and Altchek comes off the bench to relieve Hoff or Charnock.
Saturday was Altchek’s first start since the season opener against Vermont.
Kerr also used seniors Grayson Sugarman and Ladd Fritz to relieve Tornaritis and Altchek before calling on Hoff and Charnock in the middle of the second half.
“I just wanted to change it up and give other guys a shot,” Kerr said. “Its more advantageous to have a big guy up there like Ladd [who is 6’1] or Altchek [6’2] that can head things on, and push things on. It gives them a bit of a different look.”
The personnel shift worked early in the match, as Harvard scored within the first ten minutes with a goal from senior midfielder Kevin Ara.
“I like to also catch them off guard, and I think we did that in the first ten or fifteen minutes,” Kerr said. “We got behind them three or four times and caused them all sorts of chaos in the back. I heard that if you can get the ball behind them, their center backs aren’t the quickest.”
After that initial score, however, the offense did little to pressure the Princeton goal, getting outshot 8-4 in the first half. But the insertion of Hoff and Charnock midway through the second half quickly paid off.
Within seven minutes of taking the field, the pair teamed up for a goal to extend the Crimson’s lead to 2-0.
Hoff played the rest of the game, but Fritz replaced Charnock with 10:02 to play. Upon leaving the field, Charnock was visibly upset and didn’t high-five his teammates’ outstretched hands.
Kerr tinkered with other areas of the Harvard lineup as well.
The continued absence of junior defender Jason Anderson has thrown a wrench into the Crimson’s defensive alignment and forced Kerr to adopt a four-back system. Freshman David Williams, sophomore Will Craig and captain Andrew Old seem to have found their place in this formation, but a permanent fourth defender has been elusive.
The appearance of senior Andrew Nechtem as a starter marks the third player Kerr has started at the right back position in as many games. Juniors Ben Mottau and Zach Chandis had both filled that role over the last two weeks.
Tough to Finish
Saturday’s game was filled with an alarming number of near misses, hit posts and last-second defensive saves, especially for the Crimson.
“It definitely should have been more than 2-0,” Chandis said. “It should have been more like 5-0 or 6-0.”
Perhaps the most obvious opportunities were Ara’s headers off the crossbar. Twice during the first half a Nechtem corner kick found its way to Ara’s head, but both times the ball slammed off the crossbar and sailed harmlessly out of the penalty area.
“[Nechtem] usually hits a good cross and I got away from my man,” Ara said. “I guess I was just real unlucky, hitting the same spot on the pole twice. I wish it would have gone in.”
Altchek was also left thinking about the almosts. In the opening minutes Altchek found himself at a bad angle on the right side of the goal with the Princeton goalie out of position. But his attempt was cleared off the line.
“We’ve been pretty unlucky all year,” Chandis said. “But we have to get over it and make our own luck.”
Though the Crimson, which has averaged thirteen shots a game this year, seems to be creating its own opportunities, it has had trouble finishing.
At no time was this more evident than against Cornell on Oct. 11, when Harvard took 30 shots and forced the Big Red’s goalie to make 11 saves. The Crimson ended up leaving Ithaca with only a frustrating 1-1 tie.
Princeton also had its fair share of missed opportunities. Midway through the first half, Craig cleared a ball that was inches from crossing the goal line.
Just thirteen minutes later, the Tigers saw one of their shots hit the post.
—Staff writer Evan Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.