The Harvard men’s soccer team picked up its first win of the season, downing Michigan State (1-3-1) in its home opener at Soldiers Field Soccer/Lacrosse Stadium, 1-0. With the result, the Crimson defeated its first Big Ten opponent in over ten years and extended its winning streak in home openers to eight years.
Harvard scored in the 17th minute to take its first lead of the season and then maintained its clean sheet despite playing with a man down for the majority of the second half due to a red card.
Freshman forward Jake Freeman emerged as a strong front-line presence for Harvard, notching the game-winner. After collecting the ball in the defensive half, sophomore midfielder Matt Sheeleigh started the play, sending a pass up the right sideline.
Freeman raced against a Spartans defender, and when the ball bounced off his opponent he controlled it and launched a shot from the top of the box that put the Crimson on the scoreboard.
"We brought [Freeman] in because he is a goal scorer," Harvard coach Carl Junot said. "That is hopefully the first of many."
The Crimson maintained its lead throughout the first half, and both teams went into the break with two shots on goal. Michigan State’s most dangerous opportunity came early in the second half off a misplay by the Harvard defense. Freshman goalkeeper Evan Mendez left the box to collect the ball with his feet, but a Spartans player picked off a long touch to have a clear look at the open net.
Mendez dove upon the ball before the forward could get a shot off, preventing a goal but picking up a red card in the process.
The Sparans were awarded a free kick, but did not convert.
"In the end, [Mendez] made a really good decision not to give up the goal," Junot said. "That was the difference between a win and a loss, so while it was a…mistake on his part, the decision to use his hands outside the box saved the game and turned out to be exactly the right one."
With a man down and thirty minutes left, Harvard shifted to a more defensive formation, and although Michigan State outshot the Crimson, 7-1, in the time remaining, the squad successfully held off the Spartans’ attacks to earn its first win of the season.
Co-captains Richard Smith and Scott Prozeller came up big defensively, recording a number of timely tackles throughout the match.
"Whenever you go a man down and the run of play goes against you, you’ve got to rely on your leaders, and those guys were good," Junot said.
Harvard also stayed aggressive and maintained pressure on both offense and defense. The squad recorded 17 fouls to Michigan State’s 7 and topped the Spartans in corner kicks, 3-2.
To prepare for the contest, the Crimson emphasized capitalizing on offensive opportunities, and the team was particularly threatening on its counterattacks in Friday’s match.
"We spent a lot of time talking about serving the ball, crossing the ball, and finishing, and I thought we were pretty dangerous [in those areas]," Junot said. "Anytime you can jump on a team early, it makes it a little bit harder for them. They have to open up [and] attack more to try to get a goal back, so the counterattack against them becomes a bit easier. You saw that tonight, [and] we were very good on the counterattack."
Harvard’s defense was also strong, and although Michigan State ended the game outshooting the Crimson, 13-8, the Crimson trumped the Spartans with shots on goals, 4-3.
Mendez recorded two saves in the match, while freshman goalkeeper Joe Festa made one save in his first collegiate appearance to maintain the Crimson’s shutout.
"Michigan State was a good opponent, but ultimately our class managed to show through," Smith said. "It was unfortunate we went down a man, but the guys really dug deep…. We thoroughly deserved it. The boys worked hard. We are glad to come away with the win and a clean sheet."
—Staff writer Stephanie E. Herwatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.