As the Crimson hits the field face No. 4/3 UConn, its offensive attack will need to rise to the occasion against the stifling Huskies defense helmed by goalie Andre Blake. Junior midfielder Kyle Henderson will be expected to make major contributions if Harvard expects to pull off the upset.
Following a difficult 2011 season, the Harvard men’s soccer team’s 2012 campaign has not gotten off to a much better start, and things don’t get any easier from here for the Crimson.
Coming off a split with Michigan State and Southern Methodist in its first two home games of the year, Harvard (1-2-1) remains in Cambridge where it will face No. 4/3 Connecticut (4-0-1) tomorrow afternoon at Ohiri Field.
Last weekend, the Crimson won just its third game since November 2010 when it knocked off the Spartans, its first ever victory over a Big Ten opponent. In its subsequent contest, Harvard suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 double-overtime loss to the Mustangs despite a two-goal second half rally. Notably, both those games were played on the turf of Soldier’s Field Soccer Stadium, while tomorrow’s contest will take place on the grass of Ohiri Field.
“We train [at Ohiri] a lot,” junior midfielder Kyle Henderson said. “It’s a fine surface; it’s not going to make a difference.”
UConn also defeated Michigan State this season, in addition to wins over St. Francis, Dartmouth, and Washington—the latter two in extra time. The Huskies tied BU, 1-1, in its most recent contest and remains in the top five of both national polls.
“They are obviously a good team, but a lot of us have played them in the past and it’s always been a good game,” Henderson said. “So we are obviously looking forward to...competing with them. It is also our first time that we only have one game a weekend, so we can put a lot of our effort into it.”
Co-captain Scott Prozeller, sophomore Hiroki Kobayashi, and freshmen Jake Freeman and Oliver White have all tallied goals for the Crimson this season, while another pair of rookies—Evan Mendez and Joe Festa—has split the goaltending duties. Thus far, Mendez has been more effective, registering a 0.71 goals against average and an .833 save percentage. But Festa got the start against Southern Methodist after Mendez collected a red card when he prevented a shot by diving on the ball outside the goalie box against the Spartans.
Whoever is in net for Harvard will be tasked with stopping a UConn attack led by sophomore Allando Matheson and junior Mamadou Diouf, who have both scored a team-high two goals this year. Senior defenseman Max Wasserman paces the squad with two assists and was named to the Big East Honor Roll this week following his game-winning goal off a free kick against Washington.
Senior Carlos Alvarez, a 2011 NSCAA Second-Team All-American, has also registered a tally for Connecticut this year. As a freshman in 2009, Alvarez scored two goals and had an assist to help then-No. 17 UConn upset then-No. 6 Harvard in the squads’ last meeting in Cambridge.
To slow down the Huskies’ offensive attack, Kobayashi emphasized that the Crimson would have to take control of the flow of the game.
“We’ve got to play at our own rhythm, just play our style,” the forward said.
Doing so will be tough, as the prolific UConn offense has outshot opponents 72-45 on the season. Harvard has also outshot its opponents this year, albeit by a lesser margin of 59-50. But it has not always been able to turn those attempts into wins.
Trying to continue preventing the Crimson from doing so will be Andre Blake, UConn’s sophomore goalie who has played every minute in net this year. During that time, Blake has registered a 0.38 goals against average and has recorded a .875 save percentage—two statistics that place him 15th and 18th in the country, respectively.
Despite the keeper’s stellar performance thus far, Henderson said that the Crimson is confident in its ability to generate offensive chances against Blake and a strong UConn defense.
“Our work rate has been good in the last few games,” he explained. “That is really one of the only things you control on the field, and I think we’ve been really strong in that department.”
In the all-time series, Harvard is 8-14-5 against Connecticut. But in this year’s version of the contest, the Crimson is ready to take its shot at one of the nation’s elite squads.
“UConn is definitely one of the best teams, so we’re all very pumped and ready to go at them,” Kobayashi said. “We’re not scared at all.”
—Staff writer Scott A. Sherman can be reached at email@example.com.