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M. Soccer Looks To Prove Itself vs. Penn

By Evan R. Johnson, Crimson Staff Writer

As the Harvard men’s soccer team heads into its final game against Penn, the seniors have begun realizing how much of this season has been filled with almosts.

Though it has just two Ivy League wins and at best will finish in a four-way tie for third place, it has also only lost three games by multiple goals and leads the league in points with 77. That point total is more than double the amount scored by Dartmouth and Cornell.

And with hopes of a 10 win season and a second place finish dashed by last weekend’s 2-0 loss to Columbia, any real hopes the Crimson (8-5-3, 2-3-1 Ivy) might have entertained for NCAA tournament bid seem to have gone out the window.

“Okay let’s be honest—our [Ivy] record is not good,” said captain Andrew Old. “But our overall record is pretty decent.”

Further diminishing its possibilities for a postseason run is the fact that the Crimson have only won two games so far against teams with a winning record, though one of these wins came against Central Conn.—the No. 3 team in New England.

Still, just because Harvard’s hopes for an at-large bid may be gone, it doesn’t mean this year’s game against Penn (5-9-2, 1-5) at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow will be any less exciting. And if history has taught us anything, it is that Quakers are, well, quirky.

Last year the Crimson had the joy of playing spoiler, when it beat Penn 2-1 in a bizarre come-from-behind victory.

Midway through the first half, the referee made an objectionable call on a slide tackle from then-freshman defender Will Craig, and awarded the Quakers a golden opportunity with a penalty kick.

The Crimson bench immediately erupted in frustration over the call, prompting the ejection of two Harvard coaches, including Kerr. Then-senior Joe Steffa also got a yellow card, though he would later go on to score the game-winner in the second half.

“We had a bit of a chuckle on the field, because Coach was going absolutely nuts,” Old said.

And while Harvard remains eerily similar to the team that entered last year’s match-up—both times it has entered the match with eight wins, a 2-3-1 conference record and is coming off a loss to Columbia that killed hopes for a postseason berth—Penn has remained anything but constant over the years.

Last year, the Quakers had one loss in league play. This year it has one win in league play, and is likely to finish in last place with the Big Green, the same team it tied with at the top of the league just a year ago.

At least in the Ancient Eights, it seems that this dramatic turn of events isn’t just unique to Penn. In 2002, No. 12 Brown and No. 22 Yale finished in the sixth and seventh slots, but are now expected to finish in first in second, respectively. And in 2001 Penn finished in seventh place, while the Bears tied for first.

“It’s funny how things go in soccer, and how they go in the Ivy League,” Kerr said when asked about the vast number of jumps from worst to first, and vice-a-versa.

But not so funny for Harvard is its situation on the front lines. Sophomore forward Brian Charnock found out last weekend that he has to have surgery this coming winter on his groin, an injury that has been plaguing him all year. And freshman forward Matt Hoff took the day off from practice on Wednesday after re-aggravating a knee injury at practice on Tuesday.

Both Charnock and Hoff—who are first and third on the Crimson points list respectively—saw limited time against the Lions last Saturday, and their situation is unknown for Saturday’s game.

If the two are unable to start, Kerr is likely to go with two of his trusted backups in freshman Charles Altchek and senior Ladd Fritz.

And while the average fan might be fearful knowing that two of his team’s top four goal scorers could well only see a few minutes of playing time, a wiser man might be happier. Fritz—one of 11 seniors on the team—joins senior midfielder Grayson Sugarman as the seniors with the most to prove in what is most likely to be their last game at Harvard.

Though a mainstay on the starting lineup last year, Fritz has been primarily used for reserve duty this year due to an injury which kept him out of the action for the first few games of the season.

And while he has made an important contribution to the team—he has three goals on the season—it pales to his 2002 performance, when he finished second on the team in scoring with eight goals and earned second team All-Ivy honors.

But Sugarman has had an even tougher time at Harvard. Though he came in with very high expectations from coaches, teammates and himself, he has been hampered by injuries all four years and has only started to see significant playing time midway through this season.

“I can’t begin to tell you the disappointment that Grayson must be feeling,” Old said. “He’s got all the talent in the world, but has just been unlucky.”

But this last shot at Penn will give Fritz and Sugarman—and the rest of the class of 2004—a chance to show everyone that they deserved to be at the top of the Ivy League standings and with an invite to the NCAA tournament.

Staff writer Evan R. Johnson can be reached at erjohns@fas.harvard.edu.

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