Senior forward Charles Altchek, shown here in earlier action, had the Crimson’s lone goal Saturday in the 35th minute of the first half, his eighth of the season.
When you’re up against the wall, it’s hard to take a step forward. When someone pushes you back, it’s even harder.
The Harvard men’s soccer team failed to break its eight-game winless streak Saturday, dropping a hard-fought match to Ivy powerhouse Dartmouth by a score of 2-1.
But things could have been different if it were not for one call that propelled Harvard (4-7-2, 0-4-1 Ivy) back from the brink of victory to a heartbreaking defeat to the Big Green (9-2-4, 4-1-0).
The call came in the 42nd minute, with the Crimson holding a 1-0 lead and controlling play against Dartmouth. Freshmen midfielder John Stamatis, after already receiving a yellow card earlier in the half for a rough tackle, rose for a head-ball along with a Big Green player. In mid-air, the two collided, with Stamatis’ head coming down and colliding with the Dartmouth midfielder.
After the referees stepped in to break up a near fight between the two teams, and the two players staggered off the turf, the head referee gave Stamatis his second yellow card. Both players went to the hospital at halftime to treat their head injuries.
Two yellow cards equal one red card and so Stamatis, the center-midfielder and quarterback for Harvard’s attack this season, was ejected. The call also forced the Crimson to play a man down the entire second half.
“Stamatis was just going for the ball, and the player stepped in the way,” Harvard coach John Kerr said. “Things happen in soccer, there are collisions, but there was no need to call it a yellow card at all.”
The call was most frustrating for the Crimson because of when it took place. Only minutes earlier, Harvard solidified its solid first-half play with senior forward Charles Altchek’s eighth goal of the season, tallied in the 35th minute.
On the play, midfielder Brian Charnock crossed a precise ball into the box to Altchek. After controlling the ball, Altchek led a textbook give-and-go with midfielder Nicholas Tornaritis, passing out of the box to Tornaritis who dribbled past a defender before rocketing the ball back to Altchek for the one-timer past the outstretched arms of the Dartmouth keeper.
“We’ve been working on that [give-and-go] a lot with the coaches in the last few days,” Altchek said, “It was a great pass and I was able to get on the end of it—unfortunately, we couldn’t do that again.”
In the second half, the Crimson tried to counter the Big Green’s mounting attack, but with a man down and a field covered in snow, the conditions proved to be too much. As a result of both the accumulating snowfall and the accumulating presence of Dartmouth on Harvard’s half of the field, the Big Green was able to tie the game at one six minutes into the second half.
On the play, Dartmouth reserve forward Craig Henderson took advantage of Harvard misplaying a ball on defense to tally the equalizer with a wide-open blast from 20 yards out that sailed into the corner of the net.
Playing 10-on-11, the Crimson fought on defense for the rest of the half. In the 39th minute, captain and center back Will Craig rose to head a ball out of the box to end Dartmouth’s run, but instead of the ball, he hit another player’s head, causing a huge gash and his departure from the game. But after taping his head, Craig returned in the second half to lead the team’s attempt to fight off the odds.
“Craig was a rock in the back,” Altchek said, “He has a hole in his head right now, and he came back and played really hard.”
Despite the Crimson’s determination and overall good play, the Big Green was able to pounce on the under-manned team once again, this time with 2:20 left in the game. After Harvard failed to clear the ball, Dartmouth’s star forward Darnell Nance corralled the loose ball and ripped a shot from 19 yards out. The shot was a laser hit so fast that the Crimson’s keeper Ryan Johnson could not make a break on the ball. It was Nance’s team-leading fifth goal of the season.
“We’ve been in every game we’ve played,” Kerr said. “We falter near the end in terms of depth because of a lot of injuries, but when we’re fully healthy and focused, we can hang with any team in the country.”
Harvard can take solace in the fact that it played neck and neck with Dartmouth, a team fighting for the Ivy League title.
“I think we can be proud, I think we can be disappointed, but in no way can we be ashamed of this performance,” Altchek said.