After a 1-1 tie against Boston College on Tuesday night, the Harvard men’s soccer team (1-5-3, 0-0-1 Ivy) extended its winless streak to six matches. With the team looking to build momentum, the road won’t be getting any easier this weekend as the Crimson takes on No. 18 Cornell (9-0-0, 1-0-0 Ivy) on Saturday afternoon at Soldiers Field Soccer/Lacrosse Stadium.
Harvard, which has not won since defeating Michigan State on Sept. 7, is eager to take on The Big Red in search of its first Ivy League win in two years.
“I think they’re going to come out flying and show us a full battle for 90 minutes, but I know we’re going to be ready to battle,” junior defender Ross Friedman said. “We know that’s what the Ivy League schedule is like—it’s a test of who can outlast the other team and who wants it more.”
In Tuesday’s tie with the Golden Eagles, the Crimson jumped out to an early lead, but was unable to hold off BC for the win. Harvard has scored just six goals in nine games on 11.9 shots per game.
“Although we’re not winning a lot [of] games, it’s not like we’ve been playing badly,” sophomore forward Hiroki Kobayashi said. “It’s all about our mentality and how much we want it—so it’s easy to fix.”
The Crimson knows that it needs to capitalize on opportunities in order to compete and put teams away.
“We’ve really shown up to a lot of games,” Friedman said. “We had a lot of scoring opportunities against Boston College. We put one away, but it really should’ve been 3-0.”
But while Harvard has struggled to finish off opponents, the Big Red has absolutely dominated its competition. Cornell is outscoring its opponents 26-7 so far this season.
Junior forward Daniel Haber has posted a whopping 14 goals and five assists for a total of 33 points. He leads all NCAA D-I men’s soccer players with an average of 3.67 points per game and 1.56 goals per contest, and had a hat trick in a 4-0 win against Buffalo on Sept. 9th.
But, Haber is not Cornell’s only threat; sophomore midfielder Conor Goepel has four goals on the year, and senior Tyler Regan won Ivy League Player of the Week for his one goal, one assist performance against Penn last week. On the defensive end, goalkeeper Rick Pflasterer gives up an average of just 0.79 goals per match. The back end is anchored by a number of tall defenders, including 6-5 junior Patrick Slogic, who have helped Cornell allow just 12 shots on goal this season.
On paper, the Crimson may appear to be in trouble—a team that went winless in the Ivy League last year is now taking on an explosive offense and a nationally ranked opponent—but things may not be what they seem.
Harvard believes that its tough out-of-conference schedule, which included games against the Spartans, No. 2 UConn, No. 4 UCSB, and Boston College, has it well prepared to take on the top teams in the Ancient Eight.
“We have faced a much tougher schedule than they have, so we’re not reading too much into their being undefeated,” Friedman said. “We’ve gone against so many great players that I don’t think we’re going to be surprised by their quality.”
Coach Carl Junot scheduled a deliberately difficult non-conference slate in order to better prepare his team for the ultimate prize—the Ivy League.
“Our goal is to win Ivy League,” Kobayashi said. “So in all the games against the good teams we’ve played so far, winning really wasn’t our first priority. Our first priority was preparing ourselves for Ivy play, and I think we did a very good job.”
By comparison, Cornell has faced no ranked opponents, and has run over the likes of Wofford, Binghampton, and Hartwick.
The Crimson is relying on Kobayashi, who leads the team with two goals, and senior Zack Wolfenzon, who leads the team with 19 shots, to deliver offensively against the Big Red. The team will also look to rally behind a defense led by freshman goalkeeper Joe Festa, who has started the last four games and posted a save percentage of 77.4 percent, good for fourth in the Ivy League.
Harvard is confident that its team chemistry will help it as the season progresses.
“The rest of the season, we’re not going to see as good teams as we’ve faced thus far,” Friedman said. “Going forward, we’re not scared of anyone, we know that we can compete with the best, and that gives us a lot of confidence heading onto the pitch.”