The Harvard men’s soccer team found the back of the net early in its final game against Ivy League foe Penn, yet the initial score was not enough, as the Quakers proceeded to score three unanswered goals to top the Crimson in a battle between the bottom two teams in the Ancient Eight on Saturday in Philadelphia.
For the second year in a row, Harvard went winless in the Ivy League, finishing last in the conference.
The game got off to a promising start for the Crimson when the offense strung together a series of passes and found Zack Wolfenzon, who buried the ball inside the left post just two minutes in.
But the lead proved short-lived, as Penn responded with a goal of its own a mere 51 seconds later. Immediately following the ensuing kickoff, the Quakers worked the ball downfield to Kamar Saint-Louis, whose chip shot from 25 yards out barely evaded the hands of freshman goalie Evan Mendez.
“That goal was the turning point of the game,” sophomore forward Hiroki Kobayashi said.
The teams remained in a deadlock for rest of the first half, as Harvard controlled the shots and corner kick tally but failed to convert on its opportunities.
But Penn broke away early in the second half, scoring two goals in just over 10 minutes.
After a Quaker corner kick created commotion in the box, Travis Dolezal was able to find Sam Engs, who headed the ball into the net in the 53rd minute. Dolezal then gave the Quakers breathing room at the 64:46 mark when he finished after a run past the Crimson defense.
“[The first goal] was a bit of a shock to the system, and we didn’t really recover from that,” Harvard co-captain Richard Smith said.
The Crimson outshot Penn, 19-13, including seven shots on goal, and had eight corner kicks to the Quakers’ four, but, as was the case for much of the season, the Crimson failed to turn chances into goals.
Harvard players felt that Penn played a style very suitable for the Crimson offense, but Harvard could not convert its opportunities.
“They loved to connect passes, even from their goal kicks,” Kobayashi said. “We liked to pressure them...leading to us getting the ball in their third often.”
“Penn is an interesting team because they are good offensively, but they are susceptible defensively,” Smith added. “We just couldn’t convert.”
The loss to the Quakers ends another tough season for Harvard and marks a disappointing conclusion to the careers of four seniors—Smith, Wolfenzon, forward Brian Rogers, and co-captain Scott Prozeller—who, three seasons ago, began their times at Harvard with an Ivy League title.
“We talked before the game...about enjoying the last game we played with the [seniors],” Kobayashi said. “It sucked that we couldn’t win [for the seniors], because they are really big leaders on the team.”
On the season, the squad only won one more game than it did in the 2011 campaign, yet the general feeling around the team was one of optimism.
“If you look at it as a trajectory, last year the team was in pretty bad shape,” Smith said. “Even though the results aren’t that much better, the improvements have been there, in terms of commitment to the team and to the system.”
Though the team did not break through in the win column, the players note many positives towards the end of the season.
“We started to play better offensively,” Kobayashi said. “Defensively, we need to be able to sense dangers when they are there.”