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Perhaps it was just luck. Or perhaps Cornell just had too much spirit on its side as it faced the Harvard men’s soccer team in front of 508 spectators during its homecoming weekend.
Either way, the Crimson (4-3-3, 0-1-1 Ivy) was unable to secure a win against conference rival Cornell (4-3-1, 1-0-1). Despite a solid performance and impressive ball handling from Harvard, the game ended in a 1-1 draw on Saturday night at Berman Field.
Yet while the score may have been disappointing, Harvard’s effort and quality of play give the team much to be confident about in the upcoming weeks.
“The second half we played as well as we have all season,” Crimson coach John Kerr said. “They had incredible energy and great ball movement.”
Indeed, Harvard demonstrated great persistence and fortitude as it battled back after Cornell’s unassisted goal just 23 seconds before halftime. Down but not out, the Crimson entered the second half determined to rally.
Harvard’s effort paid off in the 53rd minute, when freshman and leading scorer Matt Hoff posted the equalizer, ending Big Red keeper David Mahoney’s shutout streak at 327:27. From then on, it was anyone’s—or ultimately no one’s—game.
Harvard took 13 second-half shots to Cornell’s six, but Mahoney made seven saves to keep the game deadlocked.
Despite two overtime periods, neither team was able to break through the other’s defensive wall. Harvard sophomore keeper Ryan Johnson posted seven saves on 19 Cornell shots while Mahoney’s stopped 11 of 30.
“Cornell’s goalie truly had an inspired day,” Kerr said. “It was probably the best game of his college career.”
With five minutes left in the second overtime—105 minutes into the game—Harvard had an opportunity to secure a win on a breakaway. But Cornell freshman defender Ryan Imamura managed a tackle 10 yards out to preserve the tie.
After the game, the Crimson was happy with its performance, if not the score.
“We had an incredible work rate throughout the entire game,” Hoff said. “We played extremely well.”
Hoff himself continued his emergence as the team’s most powerful weapon in just his rookie season. He currently leads the team with five goals and, after scoring the game-winner against Central Connecticut on Wednesday, represents all of Harvard’s scoring over its past four games. Before beating the Blue Devils, the Crimson had been shut out by both Yale and North Carolina.
Hoff also scored in Harvard’s impressive 3-2 victory over Duke on Sept. 26.
“It feels great to be making such a contribution as a freshman,” Hoff said. “It hasn’t been too hard to adjust to college play, since I have played for a lot of good teams.”
Still, such a significant showing by a freshman is rare. Hoff will certainly be of vital importance as the Crimson takes on Holy Cross this afternoon and No. 20 Brown on Saturday. Yet the strength the Crimson demonstrated both mentally and physically against Cornell gives it confidence against these two foes.
“We might look at the injury report and mix it up a little,” Kerr said. “But we know that if we play like we did this weekend the ball will bounce in our favor sometime soon.”
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