Non-conference games are a fight to build a resume for a backdoor selection to the postseason, and Ivy League contests are the real fight for the conference championship and automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Crimson (4-1-1) could not have built up much better momentum for this weekend’s Ivy opener at Yale than its current three-game win streak. Looking back across the five games since its opener, Harvard is undefeated after a tough 1-0 season-opening loss to a Vermont team that already had two games under its belt.
“The momentum we have is huge for us,” Johnson said. “I am a firm believer in tat winning is a habit and so is losing. Winning is an addicting feeling—so I think that momentum is gigantic for us.”
During the current win streak, the Crimson has given up only a single goal.
Compared with last year’s 1.5 goals against average entering the game against Yale, Johnson’s mark of 0.49 to date this season proves the noticeable improvement of Harvard’s defense. Last Sunday’s 2-0 win over UMass was also the third shutout on the season for Johnson and the Crimson.
“Our game against UMass was a great opportunity to play well and to sharpen our skills before the big game on Saturday against Yale,” captain Will Craig said. “We are not satisfied with what we’ve done so far and won’t be until we have an Ivy League title.”
To improve on its Ivy mark from last year, the Crimson will have to look to do better than just break even.
Last season, Harvard split its seven league match-ups—winning three, losing three and tying its game with Columbia to finish fifth in league.
“The number-one difference between our team this year and the past three years is just the cohesiveness on the team,” Johnson said. “It sounds kind of cliché, but everyone gets along with everyone else. Everyone is willing to fight for each other.”
In a home game versus the Bulldogs last season, the Crimson dropped its Ivy opener 1-0 on a quick goal ten minutes into the game. Andrew Dealy, who scored that goal, graduated after last year.
After losing that tough contest against the Bulldogs, Harvard bounced back and won three straight to put itself in competition for the title.
“The last two years against Yale is has been just one little play in which some people lost their attention,” Johnson said. “The focus this year is to make sure you’re playing for ninety minutes. Our goal is to keep the ball, not to force anything, but to just wear them down. We know eventually we can break through.”
The Bulldogs could arguably be better than last year and one of the favorites heading into Ivy play since their record stands now at (3-1-3). The only loss came in a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime defeat at the hands of No. 7 Fairleigh-Dickinson—a valiant showing.
Early season success for Yale this year comes despite graduating two of their top four scorers. Possibly more importantly, the Bulldogs return least season’s leading scorer, Alex Munns—who has three goals and an assist on the season.
If the Crimson can pull out victory this Saturday in New Haven, Harvard would make a strong statement to the rest of the league. And it would be the first step to that elusive Ivy championship that the Crimson has not brought home to Cambridge since 1996.
—Staff writer Gabriel M.Velez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.