With only three contests remaining in Ivy play, every match is crucial in the Harvard men’s soccer team’s bid to finish in the top half of the Ancient Eight.
The Crimson (2-8-3, 0-3-1 Ivy) looks to regain its momentum and earn its first victory of conference play as it takes on Dartmouth (7-6-0, 3-1-0) in Hanover, N.H., on Saturday afternoon.
The match will be no easy feat for Harvard, as the Big Green sits just one point out of first place and is looking to defend its title as Ivy League co-champions this season.
“Dartmouth is a big, physical team that is always difficult to play against,” co-captain Richard Smith said. “They always work very hard and have some big technical players as well, so it is always a battle against them. It is never an easy game.”
The Crimson has seen its fair share of highs and lows over the past week, earning its second win of the season against crosstown rival Boston University in double overtime on Tuesday night. Its situation was then reversed on Saturday afternoon, as it fell, 2-1, in double overtime to Princeton in a tight conference contest.
The results seem to reflect the story of the season for the Harvard squad. While it has performed well on the field, the final score has often not reflected the strength of its play. The team has dropped all but two of its losses by just one goal. Although the Crimson has carried seven of its matches into overtime play, the squad has gone 1-3-3 in these contests.
“Losing in double overtime…has unfortunately been a recurring thing for our season,” Smith said. “We’ve been very close and have probably been the better team overall, but haven’t been able to have that final edge to get the final goal.”
The Big Green is coming into this weekend’s matchup with some momentum, having defeated Yale, Penn, and Columbia in its last three conference contests.
The Crimson leads the all-time series, 42-34-9, but Dartmouth has had the best of its last six showdowns, edging out Harvard, 3-2-1.
Despite the Big Green’s strong performance in conference play thus far, the contest should showcase a fairly even battle between the two squads. Last season, the two teams played to a draw despite finishing on opposite ends of the league standings.
This year, Dartmouth has yet to play Brown and Cornell, who handed the Crimson two of its losses and are currently first and tied for second with the Big Green, respectively, on the leaderboard. Dartmouth edged out Yale for a 1-0 victory, while Harvard outshot the Bulldogs, 23-11, in their draw. Both competitors dropped tight contests to the Tigers in double-overtime.
“Every Ivy team is a good team to play against,” sophomore forward Hiroki Kobayashi said. “I think [Dartmouth’s and our] overall level is the same. In the past years when we’ve played them, it’s been close, so I think it will be a really fun game.”
The Big Green offense has been strong this season, putting away 19 goals in 13 contests. It is led by sophomore forward Alex Adelabu, who is currently second in the league with team-high totals of seven goals and 16 points.
Junior goalkeeper Noah Cohen has been solid in the net for Dartmouth, posting 49 saves and a .754 save percentage.
The Crimson offense hopes to challenge Cohen and the Big Green defense, finding its strength this season in counterattacks and set pieces.
Senior forward Zack Wolfenzon and rookie forward Oliver White have led the Harvard offense, netting three goals apiece for the squad. Rookie goalkeepers Evan Mendez and Joe Festa have split time in net, but Mendez has started the last three matches for the Crimson, recording 36 saves and a .735 save percentage this season.
Although Harvard is developing offensive chances, the team must begin to put away its opportunities to keep itself in the running for the top half of the league.
“We haven’t gotten the results that have reflected our performance or maybe the results that we’ve deserved, but people are still committed to the program and our style of play,” Smith said. “The reality is we are not contending for the Ivy League title, but we are always trying to improve as team, always trying to get better, and we will be playing this game as if we were challenging for the title.”
“We are more playing for our pride right now and trying to represent ourselves well in every game we play,” Kobayashi added.
—Staff writer Stephanie E. Herwatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.