Nobody could have confused the Harvard soccer eleven with the North American Soccer League Champion Vancouver Whitecaps yesterday afternoon. Fortunately for the Crimson, nobody could have confused the visitors from Wesleyan with the New York Cosmos either, and Harvard escaped with its all-important first victory of the young season, 1-0.
The scrappily-played game took place on the Business School field and for the first 20 minutes, at least, Harvard was all business. The ball didn't enter the Harvard half of the field until five full minutes had been played. When it did, it rolled peacefully over the mid-line on a Harvard back pass.
The Crimson's refreshing display of crisp, penetrating soccer ended all too soon. After going ahead 1-0, Harvard reverted to the kind of indecisive play that made 1978 a season to forget.
Only the steady play of sweeper Peter Segienko and the Wesleyan forwards' insistence on imitating Giorgio Chinaglia's wife rather than the Italian star himself kept Harvard ahead.
Midfielder Michael Smith led the Crimson in the sparkling opening minutes. Smith, a superbly skilled player, had several runs down the center of the field that ended in either hard shots or soft drop passes near the penalty box.
Forwards Mauro Keller-Sarmiento and Alberto Villar created other opportunities, twisitng dribbles and passes across the goal from the right wing. They combined on Harvard's first excellent scoring opportunity as Villar landed a cross from the wing at Keller-Sarmiento's feet near the far post. Wesleyan goalie David Coombs then made a diving stop of the low, left-footed shot aimed on the left corner of the goal.
Moments later, the Harvard bench leapt to its feet, arms raised in apparent celebration of a Michael Smith goal. Smith banged a ball from inside the penalty area that appeared to go inside the right post. Miraculously, however, Coombs managed to tip it wide.
Within minutes, at 17:09, the Harvard bench jumped up again--this time with justification. Another Villar to Keller-Sarmiento cross ended with a soft right foot shot into an empty goal. Coombs had come out to corral the ball but let it slip out of his grip.
After Harvard edged in front, the Crimson bubble went flat. The scrappy, unskilled, and often slow Wesleyan side dragged the Crimson down to its level. Smith, usually the most consistent Harvard player, could not make his presence felt in the last 65 minutes of the game. Without his spearheading runs, the Crimson front four seemed unable to create goal-scoring chances.
The Wesleyan defenders intercepted most Crimson breaks and turned the ball back the other way. When the Crimson did penetrate deep on either wing, they repeatedly sent crossing passes booming too hard past the goalmouth. When they drove down the middle, Harvard couldn't find the one-two's that turn attacks into goal.
Though Wesleyan controlled more of the play, it never seemed likely to score. Sweeper Sergienko nipped several attacks in the bud with well-timed sprints to cut off the ball and distribute it to the Crimson wings.
Substituting for the injured Pete Walsh, who hyper-extended his hand in practice and may be healed for Saturday's UConn game, goalie Billy Blood rose to the task on the one or two occasions he was tested. With about 15 minutes left he leapt high to punch a free kick away from the dangerous head of 6'5" Steve Mooney.
In the last few minutes of the game, Harvard regained a little of its earlier intensity. Villar almost banged home a beautiful, soft Walter Diaz chip with his knee and thigh but Coombs managed to come out to block the ball. Right before the whistle, captain and fullback John Sanacare, pushing forward for only the second or third time in the game, launched a cross that Keller-Sarmiento flicked with his head and Coombs had to tip over the bar.
If Harvard can maintain that kind of play for the middle 65 minutes Saturday against U.Conn, perhaps observers would squint at its forward line towards the end and say, "Hey, isn't that Kevin Hector?"