999 games. 87 years of rich history. These imposing numbers represent a deep tradition, a past filled with great success and exciting memories. But, as the Harvard men's soccer team prepares for its 1000th game tomorrow at noon against the Yale Bulldogs, these glories past are of little help.
Four games into what has thus far been a disappointing season, Harvard (0-3-1, 0-1 Ivy) faces a make-or-break matchup that could set the tone for the remainder of this season.
Undoubtedly, it is the team's offensive futility that has caused the poor start. Harvard didn't score its first goals until the third game of the season, when sophomore midfielder Ryan Kelly found the net against Columbia. As a result of the scoring drought, Harvard Coach Steve Locker has inserted some new wrinkles into the team's offensive scheme in preparation for the Yale game.
"We're trying to change things up," Kelly said. "I'm going to try to attack out of the back because it allows me to get more space to score with."
Many of the players blame the offensive woes on the team's lack of confidence. Because it has struggled to score goals early on in the first half, the team has often found itself playing defensively deep into games.
"Our timing seems to be off a bit," said Kelly. "If we can get couple of early goals, it will help our confidence as the game progresses."
The ineptitude of the offense has overshadowed some impressive defensive play, including a 1-0 overtime loss against No. 8 Stanford and a 0-0 tie in 120 minutes of play against Central Connecticut State.
Defensively, the Crimson is anchored by senior goalkeeper Jordan Dupuis, who is on pace to become the all-time saves leader in the school's history. So far, Dupuis has allowed an average of 1.25 goals per game, a number that, with more offensive production, could put Harvard back on the winning track.
"The defense has not been our problem," said sophomore midfielder Matt Edwards. "The strikers are defending well. The midfielders are defending well. And Jordan Dupuis had really been outstanding."
A win against the arch-rival Bulldogs would surely rid the team of its early season frustrations. But Brain Tompkins' Yale squad is strong at 2-2-1, and they are hungry after losses to Milwaukee and Connecticut. Yale, too, has had its offensive frustrations. After opening the season strongly, the Bulldogs have scored only one goal in their last two games.
Playing arch-rival Yale in a potentially season-turning game generates plenty if excitement by itself. The players' veins will be pumping even more adrenaline as they take the field for the program's 1000th game.
"We know how much tradition exists between these schools. The combination of playing Yale and it being our 1000th game makes us really want to come out on top," Kelly said.
They team must focus, however, on the task at hand and not the occasion, say Edwards.
"We have to try to think of this as any other game. A good win against Yale, and we're right back in the thick of it," Edwards said.
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