The last time the Harvard men’s soccer team was victorious in an Ivy League contest, Ross Friedman was a freshman.
The senior defender’s streak came to an abrupt halt at Berman Field this weekend when the Crimson earned a 2-1 victory in double overtime against Cornell.
“I’m super proud of the guys,” said Friedman following Saturday’s win. “It feels unbelievable. We were just absolutely ecstatic, and hopefully we can bring that momentum to the rest of Ivy League play.”
In the victory over the Big Red, Friedman had his best performance of the season. Midway through the opening period, he put Harvard on the board with his first goal of the year. After receiving a feed from senior forward A.J. Agha at the edge of the box, Friedman settled the ball with his chest and drove a low shot past the keeper to give the Crimson an early lead.
“I brought it down and struck it as quick as possible because the defender was coming,” Friedman said. “Something we’ve been focusing on is keeping shots on target, so I was really ecstatic that I could get it on target. It was a great moment, and I think we had a lot of momentum after that play.”
Though Friedman scored early in the game, his work had only just begun.
After the Big Red came back with a goal of its own as the clock wound down, it would take another big play from the senior to secure the victory for Harvard.
Less than two minutes into the second overtime period, Friedman stepped up to take a free kick deep in Cornell territory. He sent the ball flying into the box, and fellow senior Kevin Harrington directed it past the Big Red keeper with his head, giving the Crimson a 2-1 victory.
“We were gone from there,” Friedman said. “We were celebrating. It was an unbelievable feeling.”
Saturday’s win was a drastic turnaround from last weekend’s 2-1 defeat against Yale in which Harvard surrendered two late goals in the final minutes of regulation.
Crimson coach Pieter Lehrer pointed to the leadership of Friedman, as well as seniors Harrington and Kyle Henderson, as one of the main reasons behind the ability of the team to bounce back.
“It’s such a confident group that players like Kevin and Ross and Kyle are talking to the group saying we just have to make adjustments and get going and keep moving, and they were just very positive,” Lehrer said. “That’s just great leadership from the group. That’s why they persevered in this last game.”
Friedman seized the attention of the league with his performance against Cornell, earning him Ivy League Player of the Week honors. He is the first Harvard player to earn this title since Tim Linden on November 15, 2010. Linden earned the honor after a similar double-overtime victory on the road against Penn.
The win over Penn had been the last time that Harvard won a conference game before the Crimson pulled off the upset against the Big Red on Saturday.
Through the first ten games of the season, Friedman has notched one goal and five assists. He sits atop the Ancient Eight in assists, and he is ninth in the league in points with seven.
“Ross has been great,” Lehrer said. “He can play multiple positions for us, which is really a unique skill set. He’s been great in the locker room, [and] he constantly works to improve. Players love him. The staff loves him. He’s huge in the leadership of the group.”
In his career beyond Harvard, Friedman has been no stranger to winning. This past summer, Friedman represented the United States at the Maccabiah Games in Israel. He made his presence felt by scoring a penalty kick in the shootout of the championship game, helping Team USA earn the gold medal.
“That was an unbelievable experience, probably one of the soccer experiences that I will remember from the sport looking back on soccer when I’m done,” Friedman said. “Those guys are like brothers to me.”
Since returning from Israel in time for his senior season, Friedman has been an integral part of the Crimson’s recent success.
“You don’t really find players like [Ross] really often,” Lehrer said. “He’s got a great work ethic on and off the field, improving his teammates, improving himself, improving meetings, everything. He’s very, very valuable to the team.”
Friedman’s success can be largely attributed to the support he has received from one fan in particular. Although he resides in Ohio, 800 miles away from campus, Tod Friedman has attended nearly every one of his son’s games for the past four years.
“He meets us out in California, he meets us out in New Mexico, he’ll meet us anywhere, and he’ll do whatever it takes to be at our games,” said Friedman. “He loves it, and I love having him with me.”