STORRS, Conn.--Things could have been worse. The Crimson men's soccer team could have been sent home to Cambridge without any supper.
Instead, following an embarrassing 5-1 humiliation at the hands of Connecticut Saturday, the Harvard squad got dinner, courtesy of the slightly misguided sports-manlike spirit of UConn coach Joe Morrone. Break heads, then break bread, say the Huskies.
The loss dropped the Crimson's season mark to 2-2.
Save a manna-like penalty shot tally by Michael Smith with a little less than a minute left in the match, turkey and stuffing was all the Crimson got all afternoon. That shot, granted because of a UConn tripping infraction in the penalty area, made the score 5-1 and wiped at least a little of the mud off the collective face of the Harvard squad.
But for the other 89 minutes of action, nobody on the Crimson bench could find much to cheer about. Missed opportunities, botched shots, aimless passes, and a truly stellar Husky eleven combined to make the trip home the only satisfying thing about the whole day.
The strengths of the Connecticut attack contrasted strongly with the failings of the Crimson in the same areas of the game. The Huskies' strong head play accented Harvard's admittedly anorexic air game. In Harvard's attack, a drive down either wing invariably fizzled out because of a missed head shot off the cross pass through the box. To UConn, which really does deserve its number five national ranking, every such attack is an authentic goal scoring opportunity. Cross passes are met at the goal mouth by Connecticut heads eager to push the ball past an opposing goalie.
The first UConn tally illustrates the point. Following a disputed call on Crimson midfielder Andy Kronfeld for tripping in the middle of the right wing about 20 yards from the end line, the officials granted UConn a direct kick.
Husky right wing Pedro DeBrito lofted a perfect pass in the general direction of the goal, and center forward Graziano Cornolo emerged from a crowd in front of the net and headed it into the upper right hand corner of the net at 6:37 of the first half.
This same skill in the air renders UConn corner kicks particularly dangerous. Although the Huskies failed to capitalize on any of nine corner kick opportunities, only several fine saves by Crimson goalies Pete Walsh and Benny Erulcar prevented the score from getting out of hand.
A quick, accurate Connecticut passing game accentuated another aspect of the Harvard attack which the Crimson exhibits only sporadically. Short and well-controlled UConn passes contrasted sharply with the nervous long-ball Crimson attack.
UConn forced the strategy on the Crimson through intense offensive pressure for much of the game. Unable to control the ball on the ground with a UConn-style passing game, Harvard abandoned a controlled game plan for a survival-first, clearing-kick-after defense.
But the steady UConn ball control eventually broke through the 4-2-2 Harvard defense--and at no time more decisively than the lead-in to the fourth Huskie goal.
Following a throw in from the 18-yd. mark, Connecticut forwards executed three perfect passes, the last a ten-yarder from Rick Kren to All-New England striker DeBrito directly in front of the net about 12 yds. out. DeBrito then blasted a shot directly through a leaping Walsh's outstretched hands to make the score 4-0 at 18:27 of the second half.
The simple strength of the UConn squad created several excellent chances for the Huskies. Several Harvard players commented on the physical power of individual UConn players, and noted the rough flow of the game. Overall, more fouls, a total of 45, were called by whistle-happy referees, than in any other Crimson game this year.
The Crimson offense picked up during the first 20 minutes of the second half, and only two excellent saves by the UConn man in the nets kept Harvard off the board.
That short outburst of offensive power prompted Crimson coach George Ford to exclaim after the game, "Although there were times when we looked like we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off, we also at times played some pretty good competitive soccer."