The Harvard women’s soccer team (4-2-0) kicked off its most travel-intensive week of the season this past weekend, heading to central New York to face off against ACC foe Syracuse (5-2-1). Combined with its trip to Pennsylvania this coming Friday, the Crimson will have traveled over 1,200 miles round-trip in just over a week.
Despite the demanding schedule, Harvard featured a lineup in its Sunday afternoon match against the Orange that was nearly identical to the one it sent out onto the field against Boston College on Thursday. The consistency paid off to an extent as the Crimson played one of its best games offensively thus far in the season.
Unlike on Thursday, however, when Harvard scored once off four total shots to secure a 1-0 victory, getting the ball past the opposing goalkeeper proved to be a much more difficult task this time around. Syracuse senior netminder Courtney Brosnan saved all six shots on goal to shutout the Crimson. On the other side of the field, Harvard put the ball into its own net for the deciding own goal.
Just like that, the Crimson saw its three-game win streak snapped at the hands of the Orange, 1-0. Syracuse improved to 3-1-0 on its current seven-game homestand, while Harvard will have to bounce back quickly with three games in five days later this week.
“We obviously weren’t pleased with the result,” said Crimson captain and midfielder Caroline Chagares. “But I think there’s a lot to like about how we played today, especially against a very good opponent, and we’ll take care of the not-so-good things when we sit down and watch the film.”
The contest started out with chances for both sides, as the teams combined for six corner kick opportunities in the first 15 minutes. Neither got very close to finding the back of the net, however, and Brosnan and Harvard junior goalkeeper Danielle Etzel made clean, routine saves when called upon to do so.
This pattern continued for most of the first half as the teams found shooting space but no clear-cut chances on goal. At intermission, the Orange had tallied seven shots to the Crimson’s five, but the scoreline still stood at 0-0.
Syracuse came out of the break with more attacking intent, putting pressure on Harvard’s defenders and disrupting their back-passes. Ultimately, it was this pressure that produced the only goal of the game, as sophomore goalkeeper Kat Hess mishandled a routine back-pass from Becker.
“It was an unfortunate goal to give up, and unfortunate it ended up being the difference,” Crimson coach Chris Hamblin said. “But we understand that mistakes happen, and I’m glad with how the team responded to come right back and knock on their door at the end of the game.”
Besides this misplay, Harvard’s defense was solid throughout the game, as it has been all season. The unit entered the matchup as the 23rd ranked scoring defense in the country, on a goals per minute basis, and showed why by shutting down the Orange’s potent offense. Despite conceding nine corners, the Crimson closed down on opposing forwards and allowed only four shots on goal.
On the other side of the ball, the Harvard offense displayed a level of chemistry and flow that had been absent in previous games. With the freshman pairing at forward finding their footing six games into the season, the Crimson was able to sustain attacking movements and create quality chances. The result on the scoresheet was a season-high 11 shots over the course of the contest. Six of those were on frame, also a season-high for the team.
“We knew we wanted to come out and get after them on offense,” Chagares said. “And that’s what we did, especially when we had to later in the game - create chances and pressure their goalie.”
Junior midfielder Leah Mohammadi was once again the engine of the offense, accounting for seven of the 11 shots. Mohammadi, who has scored three of Harvard’s four goals thus far in 2017, came closest for her team when she hit the crossbar from a free kick in the 88th minute.
Freshman forward Lauren Raimondo also had a great chance at goal late in the game, in the 86th minute, but her blast from the left side of the box was tipped over the bar by Brosnan.
“Once we went down by a goal, I think the players naturally started to pick up their play and gain some momentum,” Hamblin said. “We sat deep for some parts of the game, but we knew we had to go forward in the last 15 minutes or so. It was just unfortunate that we weren’t able to convert any of the chances we had.”
Though the Crimson did not find the back of the net on Sunday, the team will have plenty of chances to build on the offensive rhythm it developed, particularly towards the end of the game, in the three matchups it has this week.
—Staff writer George Hu can be reached at email@example.com.
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