Last year, the Harvard men’s soccer team needed a win against Columbia to maintain a chance at the Ivy League title. But with seven minutes left in the game, the score remained 0-0. The Crimson had failed to register a single shot on goal.
But all it took was one shot from then-junior forward Tim Schmoll in the 84th minute. With a 1-0 victory over Columbia, the Crimson moved to within two points of conference leaders Princeton and Dartmouth.
This time around, Harvard’s fate is not as clear-cut. The Crimson lost a chance to tie Dartmouth for first place in the conference when the Big Green eked out a 1-0 overtime win against Harvard last week.
“We really wanted to win that game so we could put ourselves in the driver’s seat of the Ivy League,” co-captain Mark Ashby said. “But since we lost, anything can happen.”
With only two games remaining in the season, the Crimson (7-6-2, 3-2 Ivy) will need to win both for a shot to even tie the championship title. And Dartmouth (9-4-1, 5-0), now five points ahead of the pack, would need to lose both its next games.
But the team will travel to New York City this weekend to face the Lions with as much energy as ever.
“Despite the fact that we’re not as in control nearly as much as we were before, we definitely haven’t given up on the season,” Ashby said. “Even if mathematically we didn’t have a chance, the type of guys we have on the team still wouldn’t give up.”
Columbia (9-4-1, 3-2) is currently tied with Harvard for third in Ivy standings.
“Having played Columbia a bunch of times, they’re always a very technical, very sound team,” senior forward Jake Freeman said. “They rarely come into a game without bringing the fight and energy that they need to compete.”
The Lions boast an overall win percentage of 0.68, slightly higher than the Crimson’s 0.53. The team has won three of its past four games, while Harvard is coming off two consecutive in-conference losses.
“We’re going in against Columbia hoping to get a win, with the same mentality that we have going into every game,” Freeman said. “We’re pretty confident as a team. We’re not really dwelling on the losses that we’ve had.”
Harvard will have to thwart Columbia’s leading goal-scorer, sophomore scoring threat Arthur Bosua. The 6’3” forward singlehandedly contributed two of the team’s past five goals, and leads the team with four goals this season.
Another contributor to Columbia’s attack is Andrew Tinari, a junior midfielder who currently has four assists and two goals to his name. In the Lions’ most recent game against Yale, Tinari and Bosua both contributed a goal.
On the other side of the ball, the Crimson likely will not be able to rely on a one-shot-wonder for the second year in a row. Freeman leads the team with five goals, three of which have been game-winners.
“I feel responsible as one of the goal scorers, so I want to focus on trying to get guys into position to score goals or myself in position to score goals,” Freeman said.
Harvard’s offense will have to get past Columbia senior goalkeeper Kyle Jackson. Jackson has recorded six shutouts this season, a career high.
“We know it’s going to be a close game, really tough fought all the way through,” Freeman said. “We’ll need to start shooting and trying to get those goals in early.”
The Crimson’s senior goalkeeper Evan Mendez will pose an equal threat in the other net. Last year, the New York native secured seven saves to shut the Lions out. This season, Mendez has logged four shutouts and holds a save percentage of .762 in conference.
“Whether or not we can make it [to the NCAA tournament] or whether we can take the Ivy, we really just want to take it game by game…. We just want to keep it on goal, keep it simple, and hopefully it’ll pan out well on Saturday,” Freeman said.