Every season has a turning point.
For the Harvard men’s soccer team (7-8-2, 5-2 Ivy), it was a 2-1 loss to Yale in which the team gave up both the tying and game-winning goals within a 120-second span in the final three minutes of play.
Senior midfielder Kevin Harrington described the game as an opportunity for the team to show its resolve or pack it in. Harrington was on the team the last two seasons when it went winless in Ivy play. The senior attributes that lack of success to letting one loss spiral into more, and focusing only on the result, not on the process.
“You could see an increased energy in practice [the week after the Yale game] in that guys weren’t going to let it be the end of our season,” Harrington said. “The fact that we survived that next week was the turnaround point. In past years, guys have thrown in the towel and, intentionally or not, given up.”
“When you put everything out on the line, sometimes you’re going to lose, but you have to put it all out on the line,” said first-year coach Pieter Lehrer in October, regarding the talk he had with his players after the Yale loss. “That was the result that night, but as we keep putting it out there, the results are going to change in our favor.”
After the Yale game, the team had a season-defining five-game winning streak in conference play. It went on the road to Cornell, the defending league champion, and pulled out a 2-1 double overtime victory on a game-winning header from Harrington.
“From our defense to our bench, everyone contributed to that win,” senior defender Ross Friedman said. “We went ahead early and they tied it up. We went into overtime, and Kevin stepped up and said, ‘Send me the ball.’ Our coach was saying play near point and Kevin said ‘No, give me the ball’.... Sometimes, in order to be great, you have to put yourself out there.”
Harrington’s header in the 102nd minute came off a cross from Friedman and sparked a run to the top of the conference.
In the next four league games, all wins, Harvard’s defense—a point of emphasis all season for Lehrer—allowed just three goals.
The offense, which had been punchless in the early part of the season, came together to post nine goals in five games at one point.
Heading into the final weekend of play, the team was tied atop the league with Penn, which came to visit Soldiers Field with the league title on the line.
Two early goals put the Quakers ahead, and the team’s conservative play after the second goal made the lead stand up, giving Penn the conference crown.
“The loss to Penn was difficult for us, but at the same time everyone realized what we had accomplished,” Friedman said. “We had to look in the mirror and accept that Penn outplayed us. Some guys were banged up and not every bounce went our way, but we gave it our all. At the end of the day, we hadn’t won a [conference] game in two years, and [at the end of the 2013 season], we were sitting on five [Ivy] wins.”
The team rose and fell on the shoulders of Friedman and Harrington.
Friedman led the league in assists in Ivy League play, putting up 10 in seven games—four more than any other player. Harrington tied for the team lead in goals and shots on goal.