Sophomore forward Michael Innocenzi fights for the ball during the Harvard men’s soccer team’s tie with Yale on Saturday night. Innocenzi recorded one of the Crimson’s 23 shots.
The Harvard men’s soccer team dominated Yale in many aspects of the teams’ contest Saturday night under the lights at Soldiers Field Lacrosse/Soccer Stadium—but not the one most important measure. The Crimson outshot the Bulldogs, 23-11, and tallied a whopping 20 corner kicks. But Harvard couldn’t capitalize on the outpouring of shots, tying Yale, 0-0, and extending its winless streak to five games.
“We came out and our first priority was to get the shutout and we did that, so we’re happy about that,” co-captain Scott Prozeller said. “But we’re definitely not happy about the result.”
With Harvard unable to get one past Bulldog goalie Bobby Thalman in regulation, the teams went to overtime. In the extra period, Yale (3-4-3, 0-0-1 Ivy) packed its backline and prevented an aggressive Harvard team from breaking the deadlock.
Twice the Crimson (1-5-2, 0-0-1) nearly beat Thalman, but luck was not on its side. Junior Kyle Henderson’s rocket of a shot left the left post shaking, and Harvard failed to take advantage of an overtime error in which Thalman bobbled and then dropped the ball in front of net.
“We knew we’d have a lot of the ball, [and] we knew we’d create a lot of chances off of set pieces,” Harvard coach Carl Junot said. “I think the message is that it’s not good enough though. We need someone to step up and win us the game.”
Following one of the hardest non-conference schedules in the nation, the Crimson showed an offensive fluidity on Saturday that had been missing through much of the season so far.
Harvard kept the ball in Yale’s half for most of the game, with junior defender Ross Friedman’s throws and sophomore defender David Barna’s free kicks sailing into the box time and again, creating opportunity after opportunity.
“We’ve been playing some of the very best teams in the country, and when you do that, they limit your chances,” Junot said. “We believed we would be creating a lot of chances, just because we’ve been testing ourselves against the best.
“We have that kind of quality in our team, so I don’t think we’ve changed anything,” Junot added. “It’s just a matter of being able to execute what we’ve been working on a little more cleanly.”
Defensively, holding midfielder Prozeller and a solid back-line kept in check by co-captain Richard Smith limited the Bulldogs’ chances and forced freshman goalie Joe Festa to make only four saves all night.
“We communicated well, dealt with their big guy up top,” said Prozeller, referring to Jenner Fox. “We were organized and contained, so I think defensively it was a good performance.”
Festa got his third start of the year as he has shared time with classmate Evan Mendez. Festa has the edge in save percentage, .769 to .636, and Mendez has already received two red cards in his five starts. But Junot is not ready to give him the full-time job just yet.
“I think the answer right now is healthy competition at goalkeeper,” Junot said. “Both goalkeepers have played big games and both have done well in different games, so I don’t think there’s a single answer right now. More than likely we’re going to rely on both keepers throughout the rest of the year.”
Referee Chi Chi Ogbenta kept control of a feisty game between the two bitter rivals, dishing out five yellow cards and not allowing any physicality to escalate.
Around the Ivy League, Cornell and Brown both won, cementing their spots as the favorites in the Ancient Eight.
After a winless 2011 conference campaign, the Crimson is somewhat of an unknown commodity but appears to be hitting its stride entering Ivy League play.
“You can’t drop points in the Ivy League, and we have at least one now,” Prozeller said. “But we’ve got to win games. You have to win games to win the Ivy League, so that’s our goal moving forward.”
With a cohesive defense and the offensive looking stronger, the final step for Harvard is to find someone who can capitalize on the abundance of chances and create some noise offensively.
“We have guys that have scored goals and can score goals,” Junot said. “We’re playing well and we’re creating opportunities. When goals aren’t being scored, the key is to keep creating opportunities. Eventually they’ll start going in.”
—Staff writer Alexander Koenig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.