After withstanding a barrage of opportunities by Cornell and being held to no shots in the first 18 minutes, the Harvard men’s soccer team finally earned an inviting opportunity in the form of a set piece. Having won a free kick 30 yards out, a cross into the penalty area seemed eminent. Sam Brown, however, took a different approach.
The sophomore midfielder struck the ball deep into the box, where it bounced right in front of Big Red goalkeeper Rhys Moller and into the top right corner of the net. Brown’s goal, paired with a second from classmate Christian Sady, propelled the Crimson (4-4-2, 2-0-0 Ivy) to a 2-0 win at Cornell (1-9-1, 0-2-0)—Harvard’s third straight victory and second in conference play.
“It was not the prettiest game of soccer that we’ve played, but we were committed to work for each other,” junior co-captain Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu said. “We grinded the game out, so I was very pleased to see that and proud of my teammates.”
Prior to Brown’s effort, Cornell had pressured the Crimson defense early on, but the backline stayed strong. Harvard limited the Big Red to just one shot on target and five total, not allowing the opponents to get off clean shots.
Even after the goal, however, the momentum continued to favor Cornell, as the Crimson defense worked to withstand the Big Red attack. A sloppy clearance inside the box in the 30th minute gave Cornell junior defenseman Liam Crotty a clean shot at goal, but his effort was parried away easily by co-captain netminder Evan Mendez.
After taking an 11-1 shot advantage into the half, the Big Red came close to scoring again right out of the gates. A pristine stretch of tiki-taka-style passing led to junior midfielder J.J. Black running up the wing and into the box, where he centered the ball past Mendez to junior forward Chris St. Germain. But the ball never found its target.
Harvard senior midfielder Matt Sheeleigh slid in between St. Germain and the incoming ball, getting to it just before his opponent and allowing his teammates to boot it clear.
“That was a great tackle,” co-captain Mark Ashby said. “Everyone on the sidelines was excited about it because he’s a midfielder, so he tracked all the way back into our own box and did a great job there.”
Missed opportunities were the story of the night for Cornell. Though they managed to outshoot the Crimson 18-5, only four shots were on goal.
Harvard, meanwhile, showed no difficulty in making the most of its opportunities. Sheeleigh and classmate Oliver White got the Crimson attack going in the second stanza, as the teammates forced substitute keeper Mitchell Meyer to parry away two shots in the span of a minute.
Just one minute later, the Crimson celebrated as Sady found the back of the net. Senior Jake Freeman took advantage of a sloppy first touch by a Cornell defender outside the penalty area, playing a quick one-two with White that sprung Freeman into the box.
Freeman coolly sent a low cross toward the far post and the feet of a sliding Sady, who tapped it into an empty net. It was the first goal of the season for the sophomore.
“It’s nice to see [Brown and Sady] score because it lessens the load a little bit,” Wheeler-Omiunu said. “It’s more likely for them to score again because they have that extra bit of confidence.”
The game proved to be a physical one for Harvard. Due to a bumpy pitch, both teams struggled to string together consecutive passes and had to settle for a physical battle for possession.
The conditions made it difficult for the Crimson to produce fluid transitions from its backline to its forwards, forcing Harvard to play a less technical, more physical game than the team is used to playing.
“It turned out to be too dangerous to complete passes in our defensive third and build up from the back like we usually would try to do,” Ashby said. “During this whole game, I don’t think we connected passes from our defenders to our midfielders to our forwards.”
With the win, Harvard remains tied atop the Ivy League with Dartmouth and two points ahead of Brown, whom the Crimson hosts on Saturday.
—Staff writer Julio Fierro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.