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NEW YORK, N.Y.—Hopes of an NCAA Tournament appearance were supposed to motivate the Harvard men’s soccer team this weekend against Columbia.
But the lasting image of Saturday’s match was senior midfielder Kevin Ara sitting on the bench holding his head in his hands after the game.
The Crimson (8-5-3, 2-3-1 Ivy) fell 2-0 to the Lions (10-4-2, 3-2-1) in its penultimate game of the season, crushing its chances of earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
For the seniors, the loss meant their careers would not end with a second run to the Tournament—two years ago, the Crimson made it there on the strength of a 10-win season—but rather meant they had to walk away knowing the chance escaped their grasp.
“We’re all just completely gutted,” captain and center back Andrew Old said. “That more or less seals our fate. It’s upsetting.”
In fact, the goal that sealed the team’s fate came on a mistake from freshman left back David Williams. But aside from that moment, Williams played an important part in containing the Columbia attack.
“He’s been our best player the past three or four games,” Harvard coach John Kerr said. “It’s unfortunate, but he’s been very consistent. The one time he got beat we got punished for it. As a freshman, he’s playing like a senior.”
In the 52nd minute of the game, with Harvard already trailing 1-0 but creating chance after chance in its effort to tie the score, Lions freshman Scott Waddell played the ball to Stephen Foster.
Using his size and speed advantage over Williams, Foster pushed the ball past the freshman, who chased Foster down in the corner. But Foster separated himself from Williams again and released a cross intended for Columbia star Tommy McMenemy.
Unfortunately for the Crimson, the ball curved, finding its way to far upper corner of the net, just out of the reach of both sophomore goalie Ryan Johnson and junior Jeremy Truntzer, who remained on the ground with his head in his hands for several seconds after the goal.
“I just kind of misjudged it,” Williams said. “[Foster’s] a pretty thick guy and he used his body against me and I had to reach in and he turned on me. It just took a bad play on my part to underestimate his speed and his size.”
After the goal, Harvard had a number of chances to get back in the game, many created by long, diagonal balls that Williams sent into the penalty area.
The best of these came in the 68th minute, when Williams crossed the ball to Truntzer, who was streaking down the right side of the field.
Truntzer tried to play the ball into the middle, but ended up bouncing it off his defender back to himself. From there, he had a one-on-one opportunity on the goalie, but he pushed his shot just wide across the goal.
“We got the momentum back in the second half and [then] another soft goal goes by, and then we are going to pay for the opportunities we don’t take our chances on,” Kerr said. “So if you don’t [finish] these chances you create, [you] lose a little bit of your confidence in yourself and it manifests into disappointment in the end.”
It was a pattern that also played itself out in the first half, according to Kerr.
In the 18th minute, the Crimson had a chance to score when freshman midfielder Tom Stapleton’s cross landed right behind the defense on Ara’s head. But Ara’s header sailed just wide of the post.
Only 13 minutes later, Waddell put his team on the board when he collected the ball at the top of the penalty box and put a bouncing shot into the side of the net.
As the Crimson became frustrated with its missed chances, tempers on both sides of the ball flared.
In the 37th minute, Ara was cautioned for taking out the legs of Columbia’s Oladero Ola-Niyi. Seven minutes later, the Lions’ John Mulhern was yellow-carded for a similar play.
After Harvard fell into a two-goal hole in the second half, these tempers reached a climax. With 26 minutes to play, Crimson junior Zach Chandis, who had been marking McMenemy earlier in the game, became tangled up with the Lions midfielder.
“We know that when we put Chandis on a player, that player is immediately nullified,” Kerr said. “He’s done that job before with other teams that have star players.”
But Chandis took an unusual tact toward nullifying McMenemy, as the two jumped from the ground screaming and shoving and were red-carded for their actions.
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