The third-ranked Harvard soccer team continues its four-year quad for a national championship this afternoon at 1 p.m. when it faces a much-improved Cornell squad in a NCAA quarterfinal match in Ithaca, N.Y. The winner will advance to the national playoffs in Miami.
The Crimson, which beat Brown 3-2 on sudden-death overtime Tuesday to capture its fourth straight New England regional title, will be facing a Big Red team that have not lost since dropping a surprising 4-0 Ivy League game to Harvard October 21 Cornell topped previously unbeaten Long Island University by an identical 32 score Monday for the New York regional crown. It was the Rig Red's twelfth victory of the season against three losses. The Crimson's season mark now stands at 10-1-1.
Cornell's three losses however, came early in the season against a Penn team tanked number two nationally, the number three tanked Crimson and a Perennially powerful Hartwick squad "There is no question that Cornell is a different team now than when we played them," head coach Bruce Munro said Thursday.
In fact the Big Red along with the Quakers was an early season co-favorite for the Ivy title while Harvard Cup posedly rebuilding its team was given only an outside shot at the championship. They finished however in a tie with Brown for third place with a 82 mark. In beating the Bruins in Providence 41 Cornell did accomplish something that Harvard was unable to do in its two meetings with Brown -- a convincing victory.
The Crimson, which has been bothered by injuries throughout the season, escaped the Brown contest with a number of minor injuries that could nevertheless play a major part in today's game.
Three quarters of the Crimson defense which shut out a highly regarded Big Red offensive line in October came out of Tuesday's game with leg injuries. Starter Ric LaClvita continues to be bothered by a deep charleyhorse in his thigh, and fullbacks Brian Fearnett and Rick Scott, who had outstanding games against the Bruins were both battered considerably in that contest.
The Harvard defense which many observers thought to be the team's major weakness this season has in fact played a dominant role in the Crimson's outstanding showing to date. A rash of injuries especially in light of Harvard's recent scoring problems could be fatal.
Besides the aforementioned LaClvita, Scott, and Fearnett, the team is relatively healthy. Felix Adedeji, however continues to be bothered by back problems, and had difficulty practicing on the hard synthetic turf at B U on Wednesday and Thursday. Although Harvard has been trying to get acclimated as best it can to playing on an artificial surface such as Cornell's Shoelkopt Field the team was unable to get practice time on a similar polyturf field at Boston College.
In addition to the injury situation and the team's unfamiliarity on synthetic turf. Harvard suffers the added problems of playing the match before traditionally rabid Cornell fans and in the subfreezing conditions which are likely to prevail at game time on arctic Ithaca today.
The Crimson will be at a further psychological disadvantage because it has already beaten the Big Red once this season. It's hard to psych up for a game when everything we did the weekend we played them was right," Munro said at Thursday's practice.
In the team's matchups, Harvard holds a slight advantage offensively, although Cornell began to explode in the latter stages of the season, scoring four goals against the Bruins, more than either highscoring Harvard or Penn. Although the Big Red could manage only 19 Ivy goals versus 31 apiece for the Quakers and for the Crimson, its forwards, led by All-Ivies Victor Huerta. Chris Agoliati and Bill Murray should, theoretically at least, be as potent a line as any in the Ivy League. Harvard, however, is counting on the offensive explosiveness of Adedeji, Vujovic, Hinze, and Papaginnis.
At midfield, the Crimson holds an edge, and it is crucial that Harvard continue to dominate the middle of the field in today's game. This is particularly important since both squads play a similar short passing offense that relies heavily on midfield support for offensive rushes. Cornell's European finesse soccer style should come as a welcome relief to Harvard as the Crimson had a great deal of difficulty adjusting to Brown's American-brand of hustling, long ball soccer on its last outing.
The short-passing style of Cornell will pose problems for the Harvard defense. Whereas Brown, and the majority of teams the Crimson faced this season really on a fast-break, king-ball offense which piaces particular emphasis on opportunistic steals of the ball deep in the opponent's end, Cornell, like Penn, should be able to match Harvard in its ability to make king, sustained multi-puldrivers.
The added danger of such an offence in that, often, the shots on net that come at the end of on passing plays provide more realistic scoring chances than those from an offence waiting for defensive miscues.
If the Harvard defense makes any mistakes, hopefully goalie Stave Kidder will be able to prevent Cornell from converting them into goals. Kidder was outstanding in Tuesday's win over Brown, and his goals against average for the season is an impressive 1.08 with six shutouts.
Goaltending, in the final analysis, may be the deciding factor as Cornell's Bruce Arena was shaky in the nets last time out against the Crimson, misplaying several Harvard shots. The hot goalie in today's frigid contest may provide the difference between a trip to the plan trees, sun, and beaches of Florida, or a Christmas in the cold snowdrifts of New England or upstate New York