For the first time in a long time, luck was on the Harvard men’s soccer team’s side on Tuesday night. After battling crosstown rival Boston University to overtime, the Crimson won its second game of the season, 2-1, after having lost or tied its previous five overtime matches.
Harvard (2-7-3, 0-2-1 Ivy) will look to build upon Tuesday’s win as it takes on conference opponent Princeton (5-5-2, 1-0-2) in New Jersey on Saturday.
“Some could argue that Tuesday’s game was one that we should have lost,” sophomore defender David Barna said. “But we’ve been unlucky a number of times and have definitely lost some games we should have won. We pulled it through in overtime which is definitely a hump we had to get over. I think we’re excited about the result and want to move forward.”
The Crimson has had its fair share of tough losses, dropping all but two of its seven losses by just one goal. Though Harvard has shown flashes of impressive play it has struggled to consistently put together a complete 90 minutes—or, if needed, 120 minutes—in order to have its record reflect its talent.
“At this point it’s a lot about pride,” Barna said. “We just want to pull out games and really show what we’re made of.”
The Tigers, coming off a Wednesday night loss to Adelphi, lead the all-time series 44-38-8 and have beaten the Crimson in each of the last three seasons. All signs point towards a relatively even game as Harvard tries to assert its presence in the top half of the Ancient Eight, while Princeton—which eked out a 1-1 draw against No. 18 Brown—makes a case for next Saturday’s matchup against conference-leader Cornell having Ivy League title implications.
“They had a tough loss [Wednesday] night, and they’re going to be trying to bounce back as we try to continue building momentum,” junior defender Ross Friedman said. “They have the home field advantage, but we have the confidence that we’ve been building towards. It should be a good game.”
After the Crimson’s winless conference campaign last year, finishing in the top half of the league is, as Barna put it, “a must” for Harvard coach Carl Junot and the program.
“In order to build for next year and live up to our potential, the biggest goal is to end on a good note,” Friedman said. “We’re taking it one day at a time but we want to—at the end of the day—show that we built something. So I agree it is a must.”
Finishing just ahead of the Crimson in last year’s final Ivy League standings were the Tigers who, despite being a consistently solid program and winning conference title in 2010, struggled through a similarly disheartening 2011-12 campaign.
“We consider it a rivalry—it’s always a tough game,” Friedman said. “They always get good players like we do each year, but they’ve had the same kind of thing. They just haven’t been getting the results.”
Chief among the talented players on the Princeton roster are the Sanner brothers. Matt, a senior, is tied for the team lead with three goals on 42 shots. Thomas, a freshman, has also netted three goals in addition to a team-leading five assists. Containing the Sanners and creating its own offense will be key to the Crimson coming away with the victory.
“It really seems as though we’re starting to establish an offensive identity,” Friedman said. “We’ve been getting chances but just not putting them away. The question all year has been, ‘Who is going to put it away?’ It was [senior Zack Wolfenzon] against BU, and now I think people are hungry to step up and take on that role.”
The offense, which is built around set pieces and counter attacks, has struggled so far this season, only scoring 10 goals in 12 games. Harvard has scored five in the last four games almost exclusively out of opportunities created by set pieces and counters.
“We have a good understanding now of what we can do offensively,” Barna said. “We’re appreciating what we’re good at and what we can do—now we just need to do it.”
With five games left on the schedule, the Crimson’s season is still salvageable. The team maintains that they are still treating it one day at a time, but there is definitely a feeling of urgency about Saturday’s game.
“We have a good chance to end on a good note and show that all our hard work has been worth it,” Friedman said. “This could be a turning point for Harvard soccer.”
—Staff writer Alexander Koenig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.