In its final home game of the season, the Harvard men’s soccer team (3-10-3, 0-5-1 Ivy) came out on top, besting Holy Cross (5-10-2, 2-3-2 Patriot League) last night in a 2-0 shutout. Led by standout play from its seniors, the Crimson picked up its second win at Soldier’s Field Soccer/Lacrosse Stadium and its third victory of the season.
“Any time you win you’re happier,” Harvard coach Carl Junot said. “It’s good to see a little bit of self-belief this late in the season. The reality is, we’re not playing for a championship. Some of the self-motivation was there tonight.”
The match against the Crusaders was originally scheduled to be played at Holy Cross last Tuesday, but the effects of Hurricane Sandy forced postponement and relocation of the contest.
In the final home game of their Harvard careers, the senior class led the Crimson’s offensive charge. Seniors Brian Rogers and co-captain Richard Smith each netted goals for Harvard in the first half. Smith also anchored the Crimson’s solid defense, which shut down the Crusaders’ offense en route to Harvard’s second shut-out victory of the year.
Neither team was dominant out of the gates. The Crimson was unable to capitalize on some early scoring opportunities, and the teams traded possession for the first thirty minutes of play, with neither team able to hold the ball in the midfield.
“We felt in this game that we were probably going to be a little stronger in terms of possession and creating chances,” Junot said. “So, from our perspective, we thought if we were patient but at the same time persistent, opportunities would come.”
The team’s patience paid off. With about 17 minutes left in the first half, Rogers centered himself in front of the goal and chipped the ball over a Holy Cross defensemen. The ball bounced off the right post and found the back of the net, putting Harvard up, 1-0.
Less than five minutes later, 31:33 into the period, Smith added another goal for the Crimson, this time a header off of sophomore midfielder David Barna’s corner kick. The ball landed inside the endline after deflecting off the underside of the crossbar to give the senior defenseman his first goal of the season.
“Throughout the season, we’ve had a lot of set kicks,” Smith said. “We’ve been practicing [them] a lot, especially towards the end of the season. This was one of the first times that it came off [as planned]. You could say that the practice paid off for us then.”
The Harvard back line provided solid defensive coverage throughout the night, leaving the Crusaders with very few opportunities to find the back of the net.
One of Holy Cross’s only dangerous scoring opportunities occurred early in the first half. Less than nine minutes into play, a defensive breakdown by the Crimson gave the Crusaders junior midfielder Monty Carlos an open look on net, but the shot missed wide right.
“I thought our back line performed [well],” Junot said. “Anytime you have a shutout, the back line and the goalkeeper did very well.”
Freshman goalkeeper Evan Mendez recorded three saves en route to his first full-game shutout, while Holy Cross goaltender Kevin Wright posted four.
The second half of play continued much like the start of the first. Neither team saw much action in front of the net. The Crusaders had a scoring opportunity off a corner kick by senior midfielder Pat McMahon at 60:21, but the offense was unable to convert on one of its best scoring chances of the night. With less than three minutes to play in regulation, a Holy Cross foul gave Harvard a free kick from outside the penalty box. Freshman Oliver White nudged the ball to co-captain Scott Prozeller, who got a good leg on it, but missed the shot wide right.
The Crusaders edged out the Crimson in shots, 12-11, and tied Harvard, 6-6, in corner kicks for the match. Still, Holy Cross failed to capitalize on the few scoring opportunites that Harvard allowed and was unable to mount a comeback in the final stages of the contest.
Though the end of the season is within sight, Harvard remains fully committed to ending its lackluster season with strong play. A victory this weekend in its final matchup against Penn would serve as redemption for an otherwise disappointing season.
“Even though we haven’t got a championship to play for, it’s really important that we end the season on a high,” Smith said.
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