Harvard Prepares to Face Non-Conference Foes

DR. DRE
Meredith H. Keffer

Co-captain Andre Akpan, who leads the team in shots, assits, goals scored, and total points, will once again look to drive the Crimson’s efforts this week against non-conference opponents UNH and No. 3 Wake Forest.

They say there is no such thing as perfect—yet the Harvard men’s soccer team would beg to differ. The sixth-ranked Crimson has kicked off its 2009 season with a spotless 5-0-0 record and is looking to continue the pattern in this week’s two matches.

Harvard is taking on New Hampshire (2-3-1) at 4 p.m. this afternoon in the second of four straight road games. Saturday will be a battle between top ten teams as the Crimson challenge No. 3 Wake Forest (3-1-1) in Winston-Salem, N.C., at 7 p.m.

Harvard has earned its national ranking with a perfect non-conference record so far this year. Most recently, the team defeated Fairfield last Saturday in a 4-1 decision.

Co-captain and Top Drawer Soccer National Player of the Week Andre Akpan led the effort with two goals and an assist. Freshmen Brian Rogers and Zack Wolfenzon each tallied a goal of their own as well.

Akpan has been crucial to the Crimson’s success and leads the team in shots, assists, goals scored, and total points. However when asked about his success this season, the veteran is quick to recognize the team’s effort as a whole.

“What we’ve been really focused on this year is being strong on defense which develops into good offense. So far we’ve seen really good results,” he said.

In fact, Harvard’s defense has given up only two goals in five games, while the offense has scored an impressive 15 goals on its opponents. This eye for the net ranks the Crimson third in the nation in goals scored.

Today’s matchup against the Wildcats will be a great opportunity for Harvard to continue its momentum going into Saturday’s highly-anticipated game. In two of the past three meetings between the teams, UNH has come out on top, but the Crimson is hoping to repeat last season’s success. Exactly one year ago Harvard defeated UNH 3-1 on home turf at Ohiri Field.

Akpan recognized that while the game against the Wildcats is as significant as any other, most of the attention is on the weekend game against the third best squad in the nation.

“Both are important games. Wake Forest is obviously a little more exciting because of their ranking,” the team captain said.

But his teammate emphasized that the Crimson isn’t affected by the reputation of its opponent, no matter the media attention.

“We go out and impose our identity on the other teams and it works out in our favor,” junior Robert Millock said.

The Demon Deacons boasted an undefeated record of their own until they fell to No. 20 Virginia 1-0 last Friday. The game also marked the end of the team’s 35-game home win streak.

However, Wake Forest has proven itself among the college soccer elite with wins against other top-ranked opponents earlier this season. This September the Demon Deacons have tied No. 10 Notre Dame in double overtime, defeated No. 7 Indiana on the road, and taken down Clemson in their ACC opener.

Harvard has the chance to solidify its spot in the top ten with a win on Saturday. In reference to rankings, the Crimson may appear to be the game’s underdog, but a closer look reveals that it holds a considerable advantage.

Harvard’s goals-per-game average of 3.00 is more than twice that of Wake Forest’s 1.40 average. The Demon Deacons have also allowed opponents .80 goals per game, while the Crimson and its goalkeeper Austin Harms have allowed half that and have already secured two shutouts.

With consistently good play, Harvard has all the pieces in place to continue its success. In addition to Akpan’s tremendous effort this season, the Crimson will rely on solid performances up and down its lineup to continue overcoming challenges on the road. So far, Harvard has proven itself among non-conference opponents, but this weekend also marks the last chance to prepare for its Ivy League opener against rival Yale on October 3.

Two worthy opponents and a top ten team face the Crimson men this week in their mission to secure the best record to start a season in school history, but amidst the pressure, the team is keeping its focus.

As Millock said, “Nothing matters until we make it to the NCAA’s and win the Ivies.”

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