With some brilliant and energetic play in the middle of the field, Matt Hoff created a number of scoring opportunities against Duke.
Facing off against the No. 5-ranked team in the country is never easy, but the Harvard men’s soccer team did everything just short of holding their own with powerhouse Duke.
“We are not where we want to be right now,” Crimson coach John Kerr said. “But we are shooting in the right direction.”
In front of a packed house on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the Crimson (4-2-0, 0-0-0 Ivy) fell one goal short against Duke (6-0-1) in a 2-1 loss at Ohiri Field.
Duke’s winning goal came early in the second half, only eight minutes into the frame.
The Blue Devils’ Spencer Wadsworth charged at Harvard junior goalie Adam Hahn, who came out to grab the ball, then lofted it over his head into the back of the net.
The Blue Devils opened up the scoring in the first half with a goal in the 21st minute. Duke got off a shot to the right of the Crimson goal, causing Hahn to dive for the ball but miss the save.
Hahn’s miss allowed Mike Grella to sweep in, dribble around him, and then hit the back of the net in the left corner with the ball.
Despite the two lapses, Harvard kept the pressure on the Blue Devils and stayed within reach of a result.
“We learned a lot from Duke,” Kerr said, “It was a very intense game and a great opportunity to see where we are at.”
Harvard came out of the gate strong in the first half, keeping possession of the ball during most of the early part of the frame.
Freshman forward Andre Akpan and junior forward Mike Fucito both were able to get off two shots in the first twenty minutes of play. The early attempts, while close, went wide, leaving Harvard scoreless.
“[Fucito]’s having a great start,” said captain forward Charles Altchek. “[He is] really quick and skillful and sees the game well”
The Crimson’s energy level was high throughout the entire game though, with every player hustling to win the ball. The team seemed to feed off of the crowd’s energy too, as they cheered and screamed along with most every play.
Harvard scored their one goal with just 1:51 left in the first half. Fucito crossed the ball from the far left side of the field only to have the attempt by Akpan stopped by the goalie. Duke’s Brendan Fitzgerald was not on top of the situation around his net, though, and dropped the saved ball, giving Akpan a second chance to kick the ball into the net.
“Our goal was a great little ball from Fucito,” Kerr said. “He just rolled past a number of guys.”
Later in the game, the Crimson continued to have a lot of shots on goal, outshooting the Blue Devils eight to seven in the second frame. But even with so many opportunities, Harvard just wasn’t able to capitalize on any of their shots.
With around ten minutes of play left, Kerr decided to move freshman defender Kwaku Nyamekye up to a forward position. Nyamekye was even able to get off a shot with 2:12 left in the game after getting a pass from Hoff, but a Duke defender foiled his attempt.
“[Nyamekye] can also score goals because he also has a nose for goals,” Altchek said. “We wanted to take a chance and we almost had it.”
Nyamekye came into the Harvard program as a forward but Kerr decided to take a chance and play him as a defender, a choice that has proved to work extremely well.
The Crimson did end out the game strong, as even with three forward players they didn’t allow Duke to score a third goal, keeping the score at a close 2-1.
—Staff writer Abigail M. Baird can be reached at email@example.com.