For 89 minutes last Saturday, Harvard senior goalie Kyle Parks was perfect. Tallying 11 saves on the night, it wasn’t until the final 31 seconds that Dartmouth landed its first shot, a bicycle kick from inside the box. With the the goal, the Big Green won the game and effectively removed the Crimson from Ivy League title contention.
Following the home loss and a week of rest, the Harvard men’s soccer team will travel on Sunday to No. 25 Columbia in search of its second conference win in its final road match up.
The Lions (8-2-3, 3-1-1 Ivy) have enjoyed a strong 2017 campaign, losing only once in the past month. On the home stretch, the team is still vying for the Ancient Eight title and a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Despite the standings, history will be on Harvard’s side entering Sunday’s match up. The Crimson (2-8-4, 1-2-2) has defeated Columbia in each of the last three contests between the two divisional rivals, and leads the overall series 38-23-5. Although only the Lions are favored to win this year, that could benefit Harvard on Sunday.
“We don’t have any pressure on us to win, we’re coming in as underdogs,” said Crimson defender and co-captain Justin Crichlow. “Without that pressure, we can just think about having fun and playing soccer, and I think we’ll be at our best because of that.”
While Harvard’s offense has struggled at times, the defense has remained stout, conceding no more than one goal in six of the past seven games.
Parks has played particularly well throughout the 2017 campaign, behind a defense anchored by co-captains Crichlow and Eric Gylling. Parks has recorded career highs in saves in multiple games this season, and preserved a tie with heroic saves in overtime tilts against Northeastern and New Hampshire.
Although the Crimson has struggled at home, the team will hope to improve upon its 2-3 road record, which includes a thrilling come from behind 2-1 victory over rival Yale.
Beating the Lions will be no small task. Columbia has impressively conceded more than one goal just once over its 13 games, and has given up fewer than half a goal per game across the season.
The key to the Lions’ defensive prowess has been strong net minding from junior Dylan Castanheira, who has started each of Columbia’s 13 games, recording eight clean sheets and allowing just six goals all season.
To break down Castanheira and the Lions, Harvard must look to put shots on target, like it did in recent 1-1 draws against Brown and Princeton, when the Crimson fired 21 shots in each contest.
“Hopefully we can generate a little more offense,” senior midfielder Christian Sady said. “We’ve definitely done that in the past few games.”
On the defensive side, Gylling, Crichlow, and the rest of the back line must remain sturdy against a dangerous Columbia offense that has scored almost a goal and a half per game.
The Lions’ offense is led by South African senior forward Arthur Bosua, who has scored seven of the team’s 18 goals. Bosua and the rest of the offense has had no trouble finding the back of the net at home, recording 3-0 victories over Brown and Penn and boasting a dominant 5-1 record in New York City.
“A lot of the goals that have come against us this season have been off of set pieces,” Crichlow said. “We’re going to try to avoid giving up those set pieces against Columbia, and continue to grind out games and work together.”
Crucial to Harvard’s success is the offensive impact of Sady and sophomore forward Philip Hausen. The sophomore, who has scored in two of his last three games, leads the team in both goals and assists, and the Crimson is undefeated when he scores. Meanwhile, Sady, who has struggled with injury at times during the season, was the hero in Harvard’s 2-1 comeback win at Yale, scoring in the dying minutes.
For Crichlow, Sady, and the rest of the Harvard seniors, Sunday marks the final road game of their collegiate careers. And while the season might not have gone as well as the Crimson had hoped, the team’s resolve remains strong.
“It’s my last road trip, so obviously that’s a little sad,” Sady admitted. “But we’re going to approach this game like we do every other one, with a professional mentality, and hope for the best.”
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