MEN'S SOCCER: Talent-Heavy Crimson Disappoints

Under the lights and in front of over 2,500 fans the Harvard men’s soccer team opened its 2011 season with a 1-0 victory over Northeastern. After a promising summer tour in South Korea and an impressive accumulation of talent, the Crimson seemed poised to realize the high expectations from the previous season, when they occupied a spot in the Top 25.

Not so fast.

Harvard (2-12-3, 0-6-1 Ivy) would only win one more game, a home match against UMass, en route to a dead last finish in the Ivy League.

“Generally, the season was very disappointing,” co-captain Tim Linden says. “We had a lot of talent but weren’t able to put it together and get the results we wanted. We have a talented squad with a lot of guys who can play and make things happen, but it’s a matter of them meshing as a team, and the program really coming together and being on the same page.”

A 2-0 loss against No. 25 St. Johns in the second match of the campaign marked the first of eight games in which the Crimson offense was shut out. In total, Harvard would only score 14 goals in 17 games. Sophomore defender Ross Friedman, who was named All-Ivy honorable mention, wound up leading the team in scoring by virtue of his six assists.

“In the beginning of the year we really struggled with scoring,” Friedman says. “Then we kind of switched things up a bit offensively, and we were scoring more but also conceding more. We really struggled to find an identity during the fall—if we changed things up top it would weaken our defense, and vice versa.”

Nine of the 14 goals came in the last four games of the year. Three of those games went to double overtime, resulting in two ties and a devastating 3-2 loss to Penn. After tying the game in the last minute of regulation on a Friedman free-kick to freshman Tim Schmoll, the Crimson conceded in the 102nd minute to end its fall season.

After the victory over UMass, senior goalkeeper Austin Harms sat at 18 career shutouts, one away from the program record. With 13 matches left on the schedule, the chances of Harms setting the record looked good. Unfortunately for him, Harvard didn’t manage another shutout the rest of the way.

“That was frustrating for him, getting so many shutouts early in his career and then not being able to break that record at the end,” Friedman says. “Definitely frustrating in the sense that individually you know he wanted to have that record. It was tough at the time because the whole team was pulling for him, but we also couldn’t focus on it because there were other things to worry about. I think he did a good job of not making it a big deal as a personal record and being a good team player, wanting what’s best for the team.”

Harms leaves the Crimson fifth all-time with 190 saves.

Despite the disappointing fall season, the spring netted some positive results for Harvard. The Crimson maintained a tradition started last year, taking on the Haitian national team in Harvard Stadium on April 22, while also adding a friendly against the Cape Verde All-Stars that same weekend. Harvard lost to the Cape Verdeans on penalty kicks, 7-6, after drawing 1-1 in regulation.  But against the Haitians, the Crimson was victorious, 1-0, off an 86th minute goal from freshman Hiroki Kobayashi.

“The spring season has been a lot of the same stuff that we did last spring in terms of conditioning and strengthening,” Friedman says. “There’s no question that everyone has made gains physically—40 [yard] times, squats, all of them are [better] across the board, and that’s showed in our games. Against the Cape Verde team those guys were all bigger, faster, stronger than us, and we still held our own. Then we played the Haitian national team, and I really credit that victory to our conditioning and the preparation that we had for those two games. Hopefully, that can translate to next fall.”

Joining Friedman and Schmoll in returning next season will be the rest of the top-six point getters—juniors Brian Rogers and co-captain Scott Prozeller and sophomores Obiajalu “AJ” Agha and Connor McCarthy. Despite the poor results of 2011, Harvard once again has reason for optimism heading into the summer.

“Throughout it all, they were definitely a great group of guys and a great support system to have here,” Linden says. “You learn a lot about yourself and your teammates, and that’s what it’s all about—having a positive experience that you’ll never forget. I want only the best for these guys moving forward.”

—Staff writer Alexander Koenig can be reached at akoenig@college.harvard.edu.

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