At the University of Rhode Island (URI) Soccer Complex last night, the Harvard men’s soccer team (2-2) was that squad.
Ninety-one minutes of attacking verve—replete with 65-percent possession and 14 total shots—came undone in the second minute of the extra period when URI substitute forward Erkko Puranen snuck behind a well-advanced Crimson backline and scored the game-winning goal on a one-on-one breakaway against Harvard junior keeper Joseph Alexander.
“[URI] sat behind the ball with most of their numbers and didn’t mind us having it,” senior co-captain and forward Mike Fucito said. “We had a few chances that we couldn’t put away. At the end they got a bit of a counter attack, [Puranen] got in behind our defense and slotted it in.”
Harvard entered its fourth fixture of the 2008 campaign looking to build upon the momentum of a convincing victory over both NC State and Vermont, respectively.
The Crimson quickly demonstrated its desire to take the game to the Rams, albeit a tad bit anxiously—Harvard drew three offsides calls in the first fifteen minutes.
“Coach wanted us to start off by trying to get in behind them and stretch the defense,” junior forward Andre Akpan said. “But they had eight or nine players back and it wasn’t a very big field, it was very difficult to find spaces.
URI’s defensive formation forced Harvard head coach Jamie Clark to make a few tactical adjustments midway through the first half. The introduction of attackers Fucito and fellow classmate Walter Diaz further shifted the onus of keeping a clean sheet from the Rams’ backline and onto the hands of junior keeper Chris Pennock.
Harvard mustered four shot attempts in the last 15 minutes of the half but Pennock stood on his head and stopped a valiant effort in the 45th minute by Fucito. The England-native would finish the night with seven saves.
The second half presented a similarly difficult challenge as the first did. The Rams’ conundrum in the back continued to aggravate the Crimson’s attackers.
Although shots were aplenty, the lack of polish in Harvard’s finishes kept the Crimson chasing a result in the waning minutes of the match.
With five minutes to play, Pennock was once again called into action. A clever through-ball from the midfield allowed Akpan to slip past URI’s center backs and allowed the star forward to get off a glancing shot on goal.
Despite slipping past a stingy backline, the ball could not sneak through an outstretched Pennock as the Rams’ keeper got his foot on the ball to deflect the potential game-winning goal away.
Harvard continued to attack but Pennock once again stonewalled the Crimson by saving senior midfielder John Stamatis’ shot with two seconds remaining in regulation.
Desperation struck the Harvard frontline in overtime and an aggressive offensive formation at the onset of the extra period ultimately caught the Crimson defenders too far up the field. Despite not registering a shot in the final 15 minutes of the game, the Rams pounced on a loose ball opportunity in the second minute of sudden death to seal Harvard’s fate.
The Crimson now face a six-day period to recover from the defeat and prepare to face New Hampshire on Tuesday.
“I don’t think we’ll have too many changes,” Akpan said. “We’ll just have to shore up those little mistakes. It wasn’t the large-scale mistakes that cost us, just a finish here or there that we’ll have to be better at.
Fucito added, “We’ll stay the same [in regards to playing strategy]. When it comes down to it, if we play the way we want to play, we should be able to win games.”
Harvard has won quite a few games over the past two years by playing positive, attacking soccer. After an abrupt end to last year’s season, the team knows it must not flatter to deceive again.
—Staff writer Mauricio A. Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.