With its back against the wall and needing a victory—along with some help elsewhere—to retain its hopes of claiming the Ivy League title, the Harvard men’s soccer team (8-6-2, 4-2-0 Ivy) snapped a two-game conference losing streak by defeating Columbia (9-5-1, 3-3-0), 2-0.
Senior forward Michael Innocenzi notched his first career brace to ruin the Lions’ senior day in a game dominated by set piece opportunities.
“It was a classic Ivy League game that can come down to a lot of set pieces and long throws,” senior defender Philip Fleischman said. “Fortunately we were able to capitalize on two of those.”
The game started off tediously, with neither side threatening much in the first frame. The two sides combined for a mere two shots and were forced to depend mostly on corners and set pieces.
Both sides came to life in the second stanza, however, combining for a total of 13 shots—six by Columbia and seven by the Crimson. Harvard got off to an attacking start, managing three shots in the first 15 minutes, and broke through just over 20 minutes into the half.
After winning a corner in the 62nd minute, sophomore midfielder Sam Brown whipped the ball into the box as Innocenzi ran on to meet it. The senior then managed to latch on with his head and redirect the ball past Columbia netminder Kyle Jackson for his third goal of the season.
Innocenzi was back to his scoring ways a mere seven minutes later off another set piece as classmate Tim Schmoll found the forward inside the box. The Franklin Lakes, N.J., native nodded it past Jackson once again using his head, doubling his side’s advantage.
“I tried to take advantage of the game plan,” Innocenzi said. “We had put some good balls in the box, and I happened to be at the end of two of those. I’d say it was more preparing for the game and really executing the gameplan more than anything.”
Columbia did not go down easily, however, as the Lions offense sprung to life in the closing 10 minutes of the game. Crimson captain Evan Mendez was called to duty, as the Lions forced him into three saves in the final 10 minutes of play, preserving the fifth shutout of the year for Harvard.
Despite the victory, Harvard’s slim chances of claiming a share of the Ancient Eight title were laid to rest, as Dartmouth defeated Cornell, 2-0, earlier in the day to claim its second straight conference crown.
While the Crimson is no longer able to sit atop the Ivy, the team believes it still has a chance to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Thus, the team will look to improve its tournament resume with a win in its final game of the regular season against Penn next weekend.
“Our goal is still to win a national championship, and we still have a shot at qualifying [for] the NCAA tournament,” Fleischman said. “So there’s everything to play for going into this final game against Penn…. We want to give ourselves the best chance of getting an at-large-bid.”
Harvard’s final game will take place at home next Saturday on the Crimson’s Senior Day, where eleven seniors will be honored.
Though only time will tell if this weekend marks the last time the class of 2016 will walk onto Jordan Field donning crimson, the seniors are confident they will leave the program in a good place for the future.
“Our coaches are great, and we’re getting a good recruiting class.” Innocenzi said. “Obviously we lose 10 seniors so that’s a hit, but we have a good class coming up, and we really pride ourselves on being a team of leaders…. The guys will really feel motivated since we’ve come so close the last three years.”
—Staff writer Julio Fierro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.