UPDATED: September 1, 2014, at 11:05 p.m.
A year after posting its first winning season within the Ivy League since 2009, the Harvard men’s soccer team is brimming with confidence.
“I think we feel we can compete with anyone nationally,” said coach Pieter Lehrer, who will begin his second season at the helm of the Crimson this week.
“[There] is more of an expectation that we will be great,” co-captain Kyle Henderson added. “We have confidence in the amount of work we have put in.”
Despite losing All-Ivy performers in Ross Friedman ’14 and Kevin Harrington ’14, the team is confident that it can replace its graduated members. Henderson, who started 15 games during his junior season in 2012, and junior Jake Freeman, a 2012 honorable mention All-Ivy forward, both return after a year away as key cogs in a motivated roster.
“There has been a lot of time and effort put into making sure the season is special,” Henderson said. “We feel like we are ready and prepared because of all the work we have put in [during the offseason].”
This fall, Henderson notes that team could have as many as 20 to 25 players ready to contribute. Lehrer echoed the sentiment, saying that the team could rally offense from players all over the pitch.
“Our [junior] co-captain Mark Ashby, in the back, can win any ball at any moment,” Lehrer said. “He plays center back, but he could have a goal every other game. He has that capability.”
In its first season under Lehrer, the Crimson struggled out of the gate. The team had just seven goals through its first nine games as it opened the season 1-5-2, reaching a nadir in a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Yale to open league play, a game in which the Bulldogs scored two goals in the final three minutes of regulation.
The next week, the Crimson traveled to defending Ivy champion Cornell, where a 2-1 double-overtime win for Harvard sparked a run of five consecutive league victories. The offense surged—at one point putting up 13 goals in a seven-game stretch—before faltering with a season-ending 2-0 loss to Penn that cost Harvard the league title.
The second-place finish was Harvard’s first in the top half of the league since it won the title in 2009. The team had gone 15 league games without a win before beating Cornell, including two straight winless seasons in 2011 and 2012.
Ashby said that the team would use last year’s results as both a building block and a motivational tool.
“We want to build off of last year,” Ashby said. “A lot of us, the returning guys, are very excited about getting some redemption for losing the Ivy League title to Penn. That’s really fresh in our minds.”
In Lehrer’s second season, the coach, a UCLA alumni and former Olympic canoeist who previously served as an assistant coach at Berkeley, said the team has begun to internalize the system he preaches. With experience comes an increased attention to detail, he notes, although the overall game plan—with offseason focuses on defensive pressure and long stretches of possession—has not changed significantly.
“We will do a lot of the same stuff,” Lehrer said. “You get a little bit more proficient at it…instead of three to four passes, you can get up to 10, 12, 20 passes, which helps you move up the field and into the attacking third, where you get more chances on goal.”
The team begins nonconference play this weekend when it travels to Washington, D.C., for a pair of games. It will take on No. 9 Georgetown in its first match on Friday and finish up with George Washington on Sunday.
As the team prepares to begin the season, Lehrer stressed that the Crimson will take the same approach to each contest this year, regardless of opponent.
“Our biggest game is our next game,” Lehrer said. “In preparing for every game, we look at it as the most important one we have.”
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