Hard-working, resilient, and dedicated—members of the Harvard men’s soccer team (2-10-4, 1-4-2 Ivy League) displayed these qualities at times during a trying season. Yet despite the Crimson’s best effort, the team suffered results that it neither wanted nor necessarily deserved.
Last Saturday’s matchup with Penn epitomized the team’s travails. Tied 0-0 at halftime, Harvard watched as the Quakers scored an early goal and doubled that lead after a controversial referee decision. The sequence, combined with another late score, saddled the Crimson with a 3-0 defeat on senior day.
"It was not the season we hoped for, but we have a great group of guys on the team,” said co-captain and defender Justin Crichlow. “I'm optimistic for the future of the program.”
Perhaps many onlookers had expected Harvard to be similar to last year’s squad—and therefore believed an Ivy championship and a ticket to NCAAs were in the cards. True, the Crimson returned several playmakers and scorers from last year. Harvard had youth on its side, as underclassmen made up the majority of the roster. Several youngsters brought national, international, and professional experience.
Naturally, then, with a team this deep and riding off dominant performances in the past, the Crimson was expected to pick right back up from last year.
Yet Harvard found itself struggling throughout the season. The Crimson defense, led by Crichlow, fellow co-captain Eric Gylling, and goalie Kyle Parks, remained steadfast overall but had trouble defending set pieces. On the other end of the field, the offense went through growing pains of its own. For much of the season, opportunities on goal were few and far between, with players unable to find a rhythm and connect more than a few passes around opposing defenses.
After a slow start to the year, the team appeared to find its footing against Providence and Northeastern, but an unfortunate series of plays set the team back three more games. In each contest, the reason for loss was the same—untimely fouls and momentary breakdowns on set pieces that allowed the opponent to secure the decisive margin.
Though the season was nearly halfway over and the Crimson had only won once, there was still hope since Ivy League play had not yet started. When this phase of the season did begin, against Yale, Harvard stepped up and took down its rival, 2-1.
But just as the Crimson offense started to flow and the defense cleaned up its coverage of set pieces, opponents also stepped up. Each of the next six games went down as either a tie or one-goal loss, with the exception of one match.
Going into Saturday afternoon’s final game against Penn (4-12-1, 2-4-1), Harvard was not playing for a share of the Ivy title thanks to losses against Dartmouth and Columbia. Still, the team hoped to keep up a win streak against Penn, end the season on a high note, and give seniors a win in their last game donning a Crimson jersey.
As has been the case in the Crimson’s past few games, the two teams were evenly matched in the first half. The Harvard defense was tested from the onset, with the Quakers offense getting off a few shots and corner kicks in the first few minutes. The home team shut down Penn, though, with Parks making saves on the first two attempts at goal, including an acrobatic one to stop a breakaway, and the defense clearing the corner kick.
It wasn’t until the 16th minute that the Crimson responded with an offensive attack of its own, when sophomore midfielder Matthew Glass headed a ball towards goal that ended up high over the bar. This play ended up as Harvard’s sole attempt on goal in the first half, with the rest of the shots coming from the feet of Penn players.
Both teams had a comparably slow start to the second half, perhaps because the cold had set in during halftime, but within minutes Harvard was warmed up. Gylling took the first shot of the half. Like Glass’s effort, that attempt also went over the crossbar.
Penn’s response came seven minutes later. Freshman defender Alex Touche connected on a corner kick to send his side into the lead. The Quakers would never trail again.
Harvard was not deterred, however, and mounted an offensive effort that led to senior midfielder Christian Sady lining up for a penalty kick to equalize the game. Just as he was about to take the kick, the referee reversed the call, claiming that the ball had gone out of bounds before the foul was committed, and awarded Penn a goal kick.
The call elicited strong responses from both players and spectators, with objections stemming from the fact that final decision was made by a referee who was standing several yards away from the play and had a poorer vantage point compared to the referee who had originally awarded Harvard the penalty kick.
Penn took advantage of the confusion as well as the Crimson defense’s decision to play high and scored off of a breakaway.
Harvard, now down by two, came back strong once again. Sophomore forward Philip Hausen and senior forward Nate Devine both ripped off shots within a minute of each other, but the netminder blocked both. Soon after, Penn scored again, and despite a last-minute effort by freshman midfielder Paolo Belloni-Urso, the Crimson was unable to put a point up on the board.
“The game against Penn was obviously a disappointing end to our season,” Glass said. “It’s been a bumpy season, to say the least. With that said, we’re going to take this season and learn as much as we can from it. We have to learn from it and use that information to make something positive out of it in the offseason and coming into next season.”
Harvard may not take any hardware away from the 2017 season, but the team hopes to spur future growth at both the individual and team levels. Neither the senior day game nor the season played out the way that the Crimson wanted. But if Glass is right, then the trials of the 2017 Harvard soccer squad may serve as a quiet foundation for success in upcoming seasons.
—Staff writer Katherine H. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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