In a tense affair Saturday night at Providence College, Crimson freshman Paolo Belloni-Urso trickled a deflected shot past Friars goalkeeper Colin Miller in the 85th minute as the Harvard men's soccer team notched its first win of the season, winning 2-1.
After the teams traded a pair of goals in the first 20 minutes, a chippy game featuring four cautions took over as the teams hunted for the advantage. Providence (2-3-0) fell to ten men in the 42nd minute after midfielder/forward Belloni-Urso went in for a tackle and Friars sophomore defender/midfielder Joao Serrano reacted by kicking the US U-18 national team member, subsequently receiving a straight red card.
Harvard (1-2-0) went into halftime hoping to capitalize on the man advantage by controlling the pace of the game and picking its moments. Providence’ junior goalie Colin Miller stood tough in the face of pressure, tipping away chances from Crimson sophomore forward Phillip Hausen and senior midfielder Christian Sady.
“We were able to play with the ball more and the last couple minutes we were really attacking a lot until we found an opening and we were able to score,” Belloni-Urso said.
As time dwindled down, Belloni-Urso took a feed from Hausen at the top of the penalty book and turned on goal. The shot was deflected by Providence sophomore defender Liam Wilson and went to the right of Miller into the net. The lucky bounce gave the Crimson’s shot leader his first career collegiate goal and stopped the team’s recent skid.
Harvard went into the game hoping not to match the start of its 2014 season, which marked the last time the Crimson went on a three-game losing streak. As an Elite Eight contender last year, Providence served as a formidable opponent, buoyed by a strong offense led by senior forward Mac Steeves.
Harvard scored early in the 8th minute when sophomore midfielder Matthew Glass buried home a deflected header to take the advantage early. But the home team quickly regrouped and challenged with a series of early chances.
The pressure started with a controversial disallowed goal by Providence sophomore midfielder Braden Kline, whose header in the 13th minute was partially blocked by Harvard senior goalie Kyle Parks before bouncing off the bottom left post and safely into Parks’ grasp.
Video evidence suggested the ball may have crossed the plane of the goal, but the referee waved off the play. In any case, Providence became emboldened and continued to push offensively.
Soon after, Steeves headed a cross just wide of frame. But less than two minutes later, the Needham, Mass. native slotted home a deflected cross from six yards out to knot the game at one goal apiece.
“One of our game points was to get pressure to him early and make sure that every header that he gets is contested,” captain defender Justin Crichlow said. “We didn’t do that at all time and that’s when they broke us down, but our coaches did a great job of instructing us on how to play against him.”
Steeves was credited with all three of Providence’s shots on goal, but Harvard’s strategy to challenge the 6’4” striker aerially throughout the game paid dividends and limited the damage to only one goal.
After the early goal, Harvard handled the pressure well, playing it out until the tide turned in the form of the Providence red card. From then on, Harvard looked to run its system and let their newer players rise to the challenge.
“The freshmen, the sophomores, everyone did a fantastic job staying composed, keeping the ball, and just playing Harvard soccer,” Crichlow said. “We really battled last night and I was really impressed by the freshmen and sophomores who really stepped up yesterday.”
Underclassmen including Belloni-Urso, Glass and Hausen provided a youthful spark on offense and moved action to the offense side of the field. This play took pressure off the defense, while creating chances for a winning result that was finally realized in the last ten minutes of play.
“One of our mottos as a team is that we are a team of leaders, so we don’t care if a freshman is the one leading the team,” Crichlow said.
This style of team management helped create a more dynamic environment and welcome the new members of the team.
“We all can give our input and I think that has helped,” Belloni-Urso said. “People with different experiences and people that played in different places have been able to share their part and make the team better.”
The hope is that this mutual leadership culture will translate into a culture of winning, with this win marking the first major step of success this season.
—Staff writer William Quan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org