Well, it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying.
The Harvard women’s soccer team fired a season-high 24 shots towards goal on Ohiri Field yesterday afternoon, but the Crimson (5-3-2, 0-1-1 Ivy) was unable to tally a goal against Rhode Island (6-4-1, 2-0-0 Atlantic 10), as the game ended in a scoreless deadlock.
Prior to the game, Harvard had reached double figures in shots just once on the season, during the team’s season-opener against Binghamton.
The Crimson came flying out of the gates early, putting pressure on the Rams’ defense. Freshman midfielder Rachael Lau had two great chances before halftime, once putting the ball just over the crossbar and once being stifled by a great save on the part of Rhode Island goalie Ria Carroll.
“For the first 20 minutes, we really were packing it in, and we had a lot of opportunities,” said senior back Sara Sedgwick. “If we’d put one away early, it would have been a whole different ballgame.”
Harvard kept the pressure on after halftime, as the Crimson spread the field and took advantage of its speed at forward. Harvard’s best chance came when freshman back Nicky Rhodes sent a booming header past the defense, sending freshman forward Erin Wylie in alone against Carroll. She had trouble controlling the bouncing ball, however, and could muster only a weak shot on goal.
The Crimson’s numerous chances came largely as a result of its domination of the time of possession. Harvard’s midfielders won a majority of the airborne balls, while the Crimson backs pushed up to contest balls in the midfield and nip Rams’ offensive pushes off at the buds.
“That’s a good strategy for a team like this,” said Sedgwick. “We just wanted to plug it in. The more we can step up and win those 50-50 balls for the midfielders, the more pressure we put on [Rhode Island].”
This approach took some of the pressure off of co-captain goalie Katie Shields, as did the team’s overall defensive strategy, which held Ram forward Melanie Kasparek—tied for 10th in the nation with 1.00 goals per game—to just four shots.
“Our new coaching staff [brought] this style of play,” said junior co-captain back Laura Odorczyk. “[It’s about] making sure you’re playing with 11 players behind the ball and defending as a team.”
While the non-conference game was lighthearted at times—after a Ram defender made a risky pass across the field near her own goal, her coach called from the sideline, much to the amusement of the crowd, “Don’t play that ball ever again, please!”—the match grew more animated and physical as the seconds ticked off the clock.
Sophomore midfielder Megan Merritt picked up a yellow card late in regulation for a dangerous tackle, and Wylie was forced to leave the field after suffering a thigh injury while contesting a loose ball. She did not return to action, and missed most of overtime.
Despite the absence of one of its sparkplugs, Harvard came extremely close to scoring its first golden goal of the year during the overtime periods. Senior forward Allison Kaveney was open for a one-timer inside the box, but misfired the shot over the goal. Later, sophomore forward Jamie Greenwald broke in against the Carroll from the left side, but her low shot was smothered.
“We keep believing that it will come,” said Sedgwick of the goal that has often eluded the Crimson this season. “[Still], I’d rather have this problem than the opposite one.”
With the blanking of Rhode Island, the Crimson is now tied for fourth in the nation with shutouts in 70% of its games. Shields has been in the net for all seven shutouts, equaling her combined total from the past three seasons.
One of the Rams’ better chances came late in overtime, when a Rhode Island forward trapped a cross inside the Harvard box. Shields calmly smothered the low shot and immediately cleared the ball. In addition to her saves, Shields also helped out her team by flying out of her goal to clear away dangerous balls and launching booming drop-kicks in the direction of her forwards.
While a scoreless tie is certainly a frustrating result for the Crimson, the team must quickly turn its attention back to Ivy League play, which resumes this Saturday when Harvard travels to Ithaca to battle Cornell (6-3-0, 1-1-0 Ivy).
“Cornell is absolutely huge,” said Sedgwick. “We need to score early. Every game is the biggest game [of the season] at this point.”
—Staff writer Jonathan P. Hay can be reached at email@example.com.