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After surging through its first few games of the season, the No. 6 men’s soccer team has finally been tripped up.
The Crimson (2-1-1) fell to UC Santa Barbara (1-2-2), 2-0, Friday night at the Lobo Classic on the campus of the University of New Mexico. It was the first time since October 2009 that the team was shut out in a regular season match.
Junior forward Joe Eubanks and freshman forward David Opoku both scored their first goals of the season for the Gauchos, who earned their first win after starting the season ranked No. 8 nationally in the preseason polls.
“It was a tough game,” co-captain Jaren LaGreca said. “Santa Barbara’s a very good opponent. Both teams got opportunities to make their mark on the game and they were fortunate in being able to convert on their opportunities.”
Unlike its previous game when Connecticut got off 25 shots, the Harvard defense was able to hold Santa Barbara to 10 attempts, but six of those were on goal. Junior goalie Austin Harms made four saves in defeat for the Crimson.
The Harvard offense, for its part, was held to single digits in shots for the second-straight match. The team managed only eight attempts, five of which were on goal and saved by Santa Barbara goalie Sam Hayden.
“That’s something that we talked a lot about after the game,” sophomore forward Brian Rogers said. “Right now we’re kind of struggling going forward. We’re not creating as many opportunities as we really should be for the kind of talent we have.”
The disparity was greatest in the first half, when the Crimson was outshot 8-2 and 5-1 on net.
In the 40th minute, the Gauchos had their first strong scoring opportunity, but junior defenseman Chris Hunter drilled the crossbar with a shot. Moments later, after applying continuous pressure, sophomore forward Sam Garza sent a cross pass to Eubanks in the box, and Eubanks buried the ball into the left corner of the goal to put his team up, 1-0.
“I was pretty happy with our performance for the most part,” LaGreca said of the defense. “There were a few instances where we could have kept ourselves a little more organized, but Santa Barbara has some pretty talented players, and we were able to shut them down for the majority of the game.”
Harvard opened the second half with back-to-back shot attempts by sophomores Zack Wolfenzon and Rogers, but Hayden was able to make saves on both.
“I thought that it was a hard-fought game,” Rogers said. “But we didn’t play particularly well; it was a bit of a disappointment.”
With 3:16 remaining in the contest, Santa Barbara was able to add the dagger, when Opoku beat Harms one-on-one inside the box for his first collegiate goal.
Final minute desperation attempts by freshmen Kyle Henderson and Ross Friedman were saved by Hayden and missed high, respectively, and the Gauchos came away with the shutout.
Garza led the game with three shots on goal. Sophomore forwards Scott Prozeller and Rogers led Harvard with two shots on net apiece after being the only Crimson offensive players to play a full 90 minutes.
After the game, Rogers admitted that with the team’s offensive struggles, he occasionally feels extra pressure to score as his team’s go-to offensive option. But the forward said he knows that as his young teammates develop and the team grows, its only a matter of time before the goals start picking up.
“I think that I’m someone that people look to to score,” Rogers said. “But at the same time I think we’ll get into trouble if we rely too heavily on me...it’s still pretty early in the season, and we have a lot of freshmen that are really talented. I think we’ll really start to hit our stride when we become more comfortable with each other and get more people involved.”
Both LaGreca and Rogers said that the long flight, the time change, and the different environment—playing nearly a mile above sea level, in temperatures far warmer than the team was accustomed to in Cambridge—all could have had a small impact on the squad’s play, but neither wanted to make excuses.
“The other team was playing in the same environment,” Rogers said. “If we want to be the kind of team that we want to be, we have to be able to play in any environment and overcome those things.”
—Staff writer Scott A. Sherman can be reached at email@example.com.
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