The Harvard men’s soccer team was the top scoring team in the country during the regular season for a reason.
After the Crimson (14-4-0, 6-1-0 Ivy) was shut out by Binghamton and down 1-0 at half time, it fought back to win the first round of the NCAA Tournament by a 2-1 final at Ohiri Field on Saturday. Harvard’s victory over the Bearcats (9-7-0) earned it a trip to Los Angeles to play No. 8 UCLA in the second round.
The Crimson put consistent pressure on the Binghamton defense throughout the second half of play, earning seven corners—after having none in the opening frame—and peppering the Bearcats’ defense with nine shots.
The breakthrough for the win came on a spectacular play by the Harvard rookies. Chey Im received the ball in the midfield and threaded a perfect pass straight up the gut of the offensive zone to freshman André Akpan. Akpan, who was very nearly offsides, took the ball almost all the way to the end line on the right side of the goal and then put a shot that nudged off of the left post and bounced over the goal line for the 2-1 lead.
Akpan’s goal capped a second-half offensive charge by the Crimson, but the game was won in the midfield trenches, where Harvard took control of the game.
Although Akpan and captain Charles Altchek had been named, respectively, Ivy Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year earlier in the week, it was a less heralded star who was at the heart of the comeback against the Bearcats on Saturday.
Sophomore Mike Fucito won balls all over the field and was the Crimson’s most lethal threat through the middle throughout the game, and his hustle and speed resulted in the momentum-changing goal that tied the game in the 12th minute of the second frame.
Sophomore John Stamatis fought hard to prevent the Binghamton defense from getting the ball. And when he slid around a Bearcats defender to cross the ball right in front of the goalmouth, he found a streaking Fucito, who got enough of his foot on the ball and hit the wide open net to knot the score at 1-1.
The energy and skill Fucito showcased on Saturday earned him palpable respect from fans and coach alike. Midway through the second half, fans began screaming at Harvard players to give the ball to Fucito.
“Give it to Fucito,” yelled Kerr at his midfielders in the 16th minute after halftime.
Defensively, the Crimson showed some of its inexperience against Binghamton in the season’s biggest game to date. The young back line of freshman Kwaku Nyamekye, and sophomores Marcel Perl, Peter Glenmullen and Michael Giammanco at times let the Bearcats offense have easy runs or mis-hit a number of attempted clearances.
But late in the second half, the unit became more airtight, with Perl on the right taking a key role in keeping the ball in the offensive zone and Nyamekye making a number of efforts that stopped short Binghamton’s runs.
The second half would have been a lot more desperate for the Crimson offense and defense had it not been for the play of junior Adam Hahn in net in the first half. Although he struggled at times clearing the ball, he allowed only one goal during the Bearcats' onslaught.