Combine temperatures in the 90s with New England humidity, and you get playing conditions that are about as comfortable as freshman move-in day. That is to say, not very comfortable at all.
While the grass drooped and the ball itself seemed to be sweating under the burning sun, the No. 13 Harvard men’s soccer team (2-0) sneaked past Maine (1-2), 1-0, on Friday afternoon on Ohiri Field.
Despite dominating play for much of the game the Crimson were unable to find the back of the net until the 69th minute.
The elusive goal came off of the seventh Harvard corner kick of the day. Sophomore Adam Rousmaniere played the ball across the goalmouth, where junior defender Marcel Perl was waiting unguarded on the far post.
When the ball reached him, Perl had little trouble heading in the lone goal of the day—and the first of his collegiate career.
“I am happy that it was a game-winner,” Perl said.
However, the play of the usually up-tempo Crimson squad was clearly withering in the heat. The quickness that Harvard can usually rely on to beat defensemen down the wing and to win balls in the middle was seldom on display against the Black Bears.
“We were sluggish,” said Crimson head coach John Kerr. “We were not as sharp as we usually are.”
But it was not just the rising mercury level that kept Harvard from scoring for much of the game. Maine was prepared for the Crimson’s offensive threats and consistently packed eight or nine defenders behind the ball.
“They made life difficult for us, “ Kerr said. “There were not many gaps to be seen there.”
In the second half, the Crimson started opening up some more offensive chances. One reason for the renewed pressure was that Harvard was getting more space by drawing Black Bear defenders out wide.
Another big boost was the return of junior John Stamatis. Stamatis, who missed the opener with an injury, returned to the lineup late in the first half. His combination play and movement up top kept the Maine defenders busy.
“[Stamatis] created a lot of havoc for their defense,” Kerr said.
“He looked sharp,” co-captain Matt Hoff added.
Also playing a critical role in the win were a handful of players off the bench, including Rousmaniere, freshman Jaren LaGreca, sophomore Desmond Mitchell, and junior Anthony Tijero.
The fresh legs sustained the momentum while allowing some of the starters to stretch out cramps and take a much needed trip to the water cooler.
“They did very well, as expected,” Hoff said. “It is good to see that we have some options off the bench.”
Those options may very well play a big part in the Crimson’s success over the coming game-packed week. Harvard will play its first road game Sunday against Providence before facing Vermont, Boston University, and Massachusetts.
—Staff writer Julia R. Senior can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.