Coming off a rough, 6-0 defeat to No. 2 Connecticut, the Harvard men’s soccer team looks to rebound on its farthest road trip of the season.
The Crimson (1-3-1) kicks off its trip to California with a showdown against the Cal Poly Mustangs (4-2) in the Nike Central Coast Challenge on Friday night before facing No. 3 UC Santa Barbara (5-0-1) on Sunday afternoon. Harvard seeks to add to its lone win of the season against a hot Cal Poly team riding a four game winning streak and the top-ranked Gauchos. The weekend will be the team’s final tune-up before it begins its conference matches.
The Crimson will take one game at a time this road trip, focusing on its Friday match before facing powerhouse UC Santa Barbara in its second contest of the weekend.
“We are trying to not look too far ahead,” Crimson coach Carl Junot said.
The Nike Central Coast Challenge thrusts Harvard onto the big stage, where it will play in front of an estimated 6,000-person crowd against the Mustangs.
In spite of differing records, the team believes the match against Cal Poly should be a close contest.
“They are a very similar team to us,” said Junot when asked about his outlook on the game.
He believes his squad has an opportunity to exploit the Mustangs defense.
Before last weekend’s defeat to then-No. 3/4 Huskies, Harvard had a promising win against Michigan State and a close overtime loss to Southern Methodist. The Crimson looks to brush off its recent defeat and focus on the positives it gained from those two matches.
Players say that the loss to UConn reinforced the importance of having more faith in themselves against tougher opponents.
“We learned from the last game against UConn [that] we have to show respect but not be afraid,” sophomore forward Hiroki Kobayashi said.
The weekend will also see a greater contribution from players who have recently returned from injuries. Junior defender Ross Friedman will play in his second game of the season after missing the team’s first four matches. He rejoins a defense that has given up a combined nine goals in the past two games.
On the offensive end, Kobayashi will spring back into action after his early season momentum was halted by an ankle injury. Kobayashi was the lone goal-scorer in the Crimson’s season opener against the University of Massachusetts.
“It was frustrating to see my team lose [last weekend] and not be able to do anything about it,” Kobayashi said.
The sophomore was limited to 20 minutes of playing time against the Huskies but was able to participate in all drills at practice on Tuesday. The Harvard offense has put up just four goals in five games so far this season.