The Harvard men’s soccer team may look back on its 2-1, season-ending loss to Penn and think of all the opportunities it squandered.
“The couple chances we missed when it was 1-0 to go up 2-0, [that could have] really knocked Penn out of the game,” Crimson coach John Kerr said. “You know if one of those goes in then everything is fine and there’s no way Penn recovers.”
But Kerr and his team can also look back at one remarkable series and be thankful that they were able to dodge a whole round of bullets.
Midway through the first half, the Quakers—who had yet to generate much offense—went on the attack. The Crimson scrambled to stop Penn from scoring as the Quakers took shot after shot from inside the Harvard 18 on a bizarre string of plays. The commotion finally ended when the referee deemed that one slide tackle was just a little too hard, granting Penn a penalty kick.
As the Quaker forward lined up to take the shot, few doubted that Penn would soon lead 1-0.
But sophomore goalkeeper Ryan Johnson had other plans. Guessing right all the way, Johnson moved even before the ball was struck. He dove and stretched out his left hand, knocking the shot—which had been destined for the upper right corner of the net—away.
But the Crimson was still far from safe. Penn launched the subsequent corner kick into the middle of the box. With the ball bouncing just feet from their net, the Harvard backs struggled to clear it.
“It was a bit of a mess in there,” captain and center back Andrew Old said.
After a Penn shot drew Johnson out of the goal, the first Crimson clear bounced off a chest and landed right back at its source, dangerously close to the net. A second back struck the ball. Once again, it bounced off a Penn player’s chest.
This time, however, the rebounding ball still had some speed as it floated toward the open Harvard net. After a few extremely tense moments, the ball sailed over the crossbar by inches, allowing the Crimson to finally breathe a sigh of relief.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it,” Old said of the play. “It was bizarre. It’s been a game for that.”
Time to Transfer
As anyone who crossed the Charles on Saturday can tell you, the strong winds and near-freezing temperatures made any outdoor activity extremely uncomfortable.
But the combination of cold and blustery forces did more than just make the shivering Harvard soccer faithful regret ever venturing to Ohiri and its less-than-comfortable metal bleachers. It also had a major effect on the game.
“The wind was a real leveler,” Old said. “[It] didn’t allow either team to play how they wanted to.”
The Crimson was unable to get the ball over and behind the Penn defenders so that forwards like speedy freshman Matt Hoff or senior Ladd Fritz could run onto it and score.
With the wind blowing so strongly across the front of the nets, most long kicks tended to tail out of bounds.
“We couldn’t really turn them,” Old said. “We couldn’t really get the ball over the top.”
Harvard was forced to keep the ball on the ground, a game plan that did not fully take advantage of its speed up front.
“It ruined the game, I thought,” Old said. “Penn’s not going to think that, because they won.”
Kerr Takes a Chance
In order to be in any position to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Crimson needed to beat Penn.
Recognizing that a tie wasn’t good enough, Kerr opted to remove a defender in favor of an extra forward after Penn tied the game at one.
Unfortunately for Harvard, the Quakers took advantage of the situation and scored the fame-winning goal less than five minutes afterwards.
“It was the epitome of our season,” Kerr said. “We showed so much, but at the same time it takes one mistake and we’re back at square one.”
The Old vs. The New
Emblematic of Kerr’s willingness to shuffle his starting lineup—and the number of illnesses and injuries Harvard endured this season—is that the only players to start all 17 games for the Crimson this year were Old, senior midfielder Kevin Ara and sophomore back Will Craig.... There’s always next season: Hoff’s goal was his eighth of the year, best on the Crimson.
—Staff writer James Sigel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.