Freshman Andre Akpan, right, still leads the Ivy League in scoring in his rookie campaign, but captain and reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Charles Altchek has begun to get into full gear as he headed in the game-winning goal on Saturday.
The Harvard men’s soccer team, developing a knack for providing enthralling home-field performances as of late, kept its Ivy League momentum rolling Saturday when it beat Cornell at Ohiri Field.
After two halves of close chances at goal for both teams, the Crimson (8-4-0, 2-1-0 Ivy) sent the Big Red (1-5-3, 0-2-1) packing with a piercing header from forward and captain Charles Altchek in the 104th minute to grab the 1-0 victory.
“Cornell made life difficult for us,” Harvard coach John Kerr said. “They played a great game, [and] defensively they are tough to break down. We kept our composure, kept clubbing away, and luckily we got the goal in overtime.”
Indeed, Cornell’s stingy defense stifled all of the Crimson’s offensive efforts during regulation time.
Stellar play by Big Red goalkeeper Luca Cerretani kept Harvard’s strikers at bay.
Altchek and freshman forward Andre Akpan each had golden opportunities during the first half. Both went one on one with Cerretani and were each unceremoniously blocked by the Cornell keeper.
Not deterred by the Big Red’s defensive staunchness, the Crimson remained persistent in its offensive blitz—totaling 19 shots on target for the game, including eight in the second half.
After a big stop in the 72nd minute by Harvard’s junior goalkeeper Adam Hahn, who knocked back a direct shot at goal, the Crimson jumped on the counter-attack. Led by sophomore midfielder Michael Fucito’s remarkable speed up the sideline, Harvard caught a break in the 83rd minute when Cornell midfielder Tom Marks received his second yellow card of the match.
Head referee Mike Violet drew the red card from his pocket and sent Marks on his lonely walk of shame to the Big Red bench.
Fucito, who incurred the foul that resulted in the red, said afterwards, “it gave us a little bit of a lift, especially since we struggled a bit today. It pisses me off [getting fouled], but I try to use that productively, rather than retaliating. I try to use it to play harder.”
There was a noted improvement on the part of the Crimson after the red card was drawn.
In the 87th minute, Akpan blasted a shot from 15 yards out, just missing the goal and hitting the top of the post. Kerr took advantage of playing with a man up by making crucial strategic adjustments as the game entered overtime.
“As soon as we went a man up, we adjusted [and] put another defender up into midfield since they only had one forward, which gave Andre and Charles [Altchek] a little bit more space,” Kerr said. “I think it worked in the first part of overtime and it definitely worked in the second part.”
Harvard was finally rewarded during the second half of overtime when Fucito’s cross found Altchek’s head for the game-winner. Helping the Crimson was the play of young defenders like rookies Chey Im and Kwaku Nyamekye, who enabled the Crimson to stay on the offensive.
“Kwaku came out as a forward and played a couple of games early at forward, but we pushed him to the back line because we weren’t defending very well,” Kerr said. “He’s gone back there and has done excellently. Chey Im has come back [from injury] and done tremendously well, he’s a very composed player; he’s tough and reads the game well. I’m very happy with both of them.”
A healthy blend of veteran leadership and youthful spunk has invigorated the Crimson, who are now riding a two-game winning streak.
After beating Cornell and No. 19 Fairfield, Harvard awaits a stiff challenge from Brown this Saturday.
“It’s a big week for Harvard soccer and we’ve been talking about that the past couple days in practice,” Kerr said. “I told them after the game that good teams find ways to win and this is a good team and I’m proud of them.”