Momentum from a strong spring exhibition season seemed to carry over into the Harvard men’s soccer team’s Friday matchup at UMass. But despite dominating possession and outshooting the Minutemen, 19-10, the Crimson (0-1-1) opened its season in a 1-1 deadlock at Rudd Field in Amherst, Mass.
“That was one that we definitely should have won,” said Harvard coach Carl Junot, who is now in his third season at the helm. “I think we did enough to win the game, but couldn’t do enough to pull it out.”
UMass (2-0-1) started the scoring with a goal in the 18th minute by sophomore forward Josh Schwartz off of an assist from junior Connor Devivo. Devivo led Schwartz with a 30-yard through ball, putting Schwartz one-on-one with Crimson freshman goalie Evan Mendez. Schwartz deftly avoided Mendez and put the ball in the back of the net.
But Harvard sophomore Hiroki Kobayashi responded quickly, netting the Crimson’s first goal of the season in the 22nd minute on a lefty shot from 20 yards out.
Kobayashi scored the winning goal in Harvard’s victory over the Haitian national team last spring and is part of a revamped offense that showed signs of improvement over last year’s squad that struggled finding the back of the net at times.
After scoring three goals in the first four games in 2011, the Crimson scored just two in the next eight.
Coming out of the half tied, Harvard applied increased pressure and outshot the Minutemen, 8-2, in the second frame. But it was to no avail, as UMass goalie Brian Frame helped maintain the deadlock and send the Crimson back to Cambridge with a tie.
Youth was the order of the day as four freshmen saw significant minutes in all aspects of the game.
Rookie defender Mark Ashby turned in an impressive performance after starting the game in the middle alongside senior Richard Smith. But a brutal tackle that resulted in a dislocated knee cap midway through the game sidelined him.
The gruesome injury was not as severe as it looked, and Ashby expects to return to the pitch in just over a week’s time.
Starting in net was another fresh face, with Mendez taking over unexpectedly for senior veteran Brett Conrad. Mendez played all 110 minutes of the game, making three saves and allowing the one goal.
“It’s just an opportunity like any other,” Mendez said. “You have to make the best of it.”
Oliver White, the High School Player of the Year in Massachusetts, saw action in the midfield and Jake Freeman, a prodigious goalscorer on the youth soccer circuit, notched two shots on goal.
The introduction to the collegiate playing field has been brisk for the Crimson rookies, but the absence of veterans due in part to injury has made their adjustment a necessity.
“We’re really relying on the young guys this season,” Junot said. “There’s always some risk in that, but so far we like what we’ve seen.”
Last season, Harvard opened its season under the bright lights in front of a sold-out crowd at Soldiers Field Soccer/Lacrosse Stadium. The Crimson won that game, 1-0, over Northeastern.
—Staff writer Alexander Koenig can be reached at email@example.com.