There's no question that the Harvard men's soccer team has the makings of a championship team.
Fourteen lettermen--including nine starters--return from the 1987 squad (14-1-3) that finished with an undefeated regular-season record, an Ivy League title, a New England championship and a trip to the NCAA Final Four.
The booters begin their season today with a 3 p.m. contest against MIT at Ohiri Field.
The Boston Globe recognizes the Crimson's prowess with a first place ranking in New England. Soccer America touts the Crimson as the top team in the country.
But at the moment the Crimson is just counting itself lucky to have to start the season without the rash of injuries that forced Coach Mike Getman to start a different line-up for the first 11 games last year.
"It gives us bragging rights for two weeks," Captain Robert Bonnie said of the top ranking. "Then we have to go out and earn a living."
The experience factor will play a big part: Harvard's lineup lists eight seniors, and almost the entire roster has NCAA tournament experience.
Last year, the Crimson fell only feet short of a NCAA Championship--a penalty kick loss to San Diego State in the NCAA semifinal round.
There's not a front field comparable to the junior trio of Derek Mills, Nick D'Onofrio and Dave Kramer. The three led Harvard's potent attack last fall, combining for 25 goals--more than half of Harvard's total (46). Getman played a three midfielder-three foward combination to accommodate the front field strength and plans to repeat the move this season. Senior Ken Ruoff should also challenge for a starting spot.
"Potentially our attack is our greatest strength," senior midfielder Ramy Rajballie said. "There is great potential up front. They're looking very good."
The three-three lineup has pared down the midfield, but not far enough. There are still too many positions and too few players. The graduation of All-America Nick Hotchkin, whose speed went unchallenged at left midfield, has left a big hole in the Crimson lineup. Junior Richard Knight was expected to step in and fill the position, but Knight did not report to pre-season training and has informed Getman that he will not be playing soccer this fall.
"We expected Richard to be playing left midfield," Rajballie said, "but don't sound the alarm yet."
Despite the question mark on the left, the Crimson midfield can't be classified as a weakness. Rajballie's skillful handling of right midfield has left the Crimson with another outlet.
"We'll lose some of the diversity we had last year," Getman said, "but if they are able to shut down the left, we can still go to the right. Ramy Rajballie is very strong, very quick."
Center midfield may contain Harvard's biggest scoring threat. Junior Paul Baverstock went on the attack in the second half of last season and netted six goals in the final 11 games to finish second on the team scoring list with 18 points.
"I'm definitely looking to go forward early on in the season," Baverstock said. "Last year I was making a change from a role I played freshman year. I took time to move to the role I really like, getting shots from outside, going to goal."
There are no holes in goalie. Harvard's net will be protected by a pair of seniors, Stephen Hall and Chad Reilly, who Baverstock classifies as the "number one and two goalies in the nation."
If anything, depth is Harvard's weakness. The injury-wracked first half of last year's season was salvaged by a solid, dependable bench. Versatile senior F.J. Gould can fill almost any role in case of injury, but the bench is still shallow.
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