NEW YORK—Half an hour earlier, only the right upright had prevented freshman Brian Rogers from scoring a wondergoal in front of family and friends. The Bronxville, N.Y.-native fired a rocket with his left foot from 30 yards out in the 48th minute, only to see his shot cannon off the post—the second time in the game that the woodwork had kept him from giving the Harvard men’s soccer team the lead.
Twenty minutes after that, his misery was compounded, when Columbia took the lead courtesy of a looping header against the run of play. The goal put Rogers’ dream of an Ivy League title in serious doubt.
So when Rogers went back to his left foot to hammer the ball into the top left corner in the 79th minute, the striker went straight over to his bench and jumped on his coach, knowing full well that he had just revived the Crimson’s season.
From that moment on, it seemed only a matter of time before Harvard would grab the winner. Also inevitable was the fact that its superstar freshman would be involved.
In the fifth minute of overtime, co-captain Andre Akpan found Rogers behind the Columbia defense on the right side. Rogers beat the Lions’ keeper to the ball and passed it across to junior Alex Chi to finish, sending his entire team into a frenzied celebration.
With the 2-1 comeback win, the Crimson retains its position atop the Ivy League standings with one game to play.
“[Hitting the post] was frustrating, but …to be that close and not have it made me want it more,” Rogers said. “And then [when we went down, Akpan] turned around, and instead of everyone turning on each other, he got everyone to calm down, and then we kept playing our game.”
“Seasons are won and lost in the balance of these games,” Harvard coach Jamie Clark said. “Guys didn’t split up or separate. We all worked together, and that was the best part.”
The frantic ending mirrored a fast start to a match with a late afternoon kickoff in New York. Harvard knew that it needed a win to keep control of its own destiny, and the Crimson came out firing. The first 12 minutes saw senior Desmond Mitchell shoot wide, Rogers hit the post for the first time, and senior Adam Rousmaniere force the Columbia goalie into a save.
In the 34th minute, a cross from the right found Chi, who directed the ball back across goal to Rogers. But the freshman got the ball stuck underneath his feet, and the Lions were able to clear. On the ensuing corner, senior defender Kwaku Nyamekye rose above the Columbia defenders, but his header sailed just over the bar.
Keeping Columbia’s star forward Bayo Adafin at bay for most of the match, Nyamekye continued to exhibit the characteristics that make him arguably the conference’s best defender and a legitimate professional prospect.
When Adafin got a shot off towards the end of the half, sophomore goalkeeper Austin Harms was there to ensure that Harvard went into the break level with a double save in the 44th minute.
The Crimson started the second half in a similar fashion to how it had started the first. Two minutes into the period, Rogers blasted his shot against the bar with an attempt that was nearly the goal of the season.
Rousmaniere added a couple of shots on goal, and he nearly picked up an assist in the 59th minute when he crossed to Chi, who was darting across the middle. But some good defending from the Lions forced Chi to shoot wide.
“We were composed all the way up until the final piece, and then it fell away,” Clark said of Harvard’s many chances to open the scoring.