UPDATED: September 4, 2015, at 2:07 a.m.
Nine games. Nine victories. That’s how the story unfolded for the Harvard men’s soccer team within the comforts of Soldiers Field and Ohiri Field in 2014.
Nonetheless, it didn’t change the fact that for the third consecutive year, the Crimson failed to come away with a win in its season opener. So when Harvard welcomes Loyola Marymount to Cambridge for its first game of the season on Friday, something has to give.
“The past couple years, we haven’t got out to the starts that we’ve wanted, so to get off to a good start this weekend would be great for us,” junior co-captain Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu said. “And that’s what we’re expecting.”
The Crimson enters 2015 on the heels of its most successful season in recent memory. After a slow start where Harvard needed four tries to secure its first win, the Crimson never looked back. A 3-2 overtime win over Boston College in Harvard’s home opener catalyzed a run that saw the Crimson finish 11-1-2 over its final 14 games.
But that stretch was highlighted by a 4-1-2 record against Ivy League competition, leaving a conference title and an NCAA Tournament bid just out of Harvard’s reach for the second consecutive season.
Now in coach Pieter Lehrer’s third season at the helm, the Crimson will look to get over the hump and end its six-year conference title drought.
The team will kick things off against two sides that have made recent trips to the Big Dance — Loyola Marymount (2-0-0) and No. 23 Southern Methodist (2-0-0).
LMU, who finished 9-4-6 in 2014, enters its tilt with Harvard riding the momentum of back-to-back shutout victories. The Lions are led by junior midfielder Adrien Perez, who recorded a team-leading 17 points last year and already has a goal and an assist through two games.
Then on Sunday, Harvard will turn its attention to SMU, who pieced together 10 wins last year and broke into the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s Top 25 last week.
The Mustangs returned both their top scorer and top assist-getter from last season—senior forward Idi Camara and sophomore defenseman Jared Rice—who notched seven goals and eight assists, respectively.
Senior defenseman Mark Ashby, who will be serving as a co-captain of the Crimson for the second straight season, says that there are three things he’ll be looking to see from his team in its first two bouts and throughout the year: defensive tenacity, domination on set pieces, and offensive creativity.
“We’re not starting from square one; we’re just building off of last year,” Ashby said. “So I think continuing [last year’s] success is going to be what we expect.”
Following the graduation of co-captain midfielder Kyle Henderson ’15, Ashby will lead Harvard onto the pitch alongside Wheeler-Omiunu and senior goaltender Evan Mendez, who were both promoted to co-captains this offseason.
“It’s nice having three captains because we’re able to share responsibility and help each other out really well,” Ashby said. “We’ve been playing together for many years now, so we’re really familiar with each other, and I trust them as decision makers just as much as I trust myself.”
Ashby and Wheeler-Omiunu combined for five goals and three assists last season, while Mendez picked up a career-high 56 saves to go along with 10 wins. Ashby also earned the title of Ancient Eight Defensive Player of the Year.
Also returning to the Crimson is senior midfielder and striker Tim Schmoll, who led the team with five goals in 2014, including the overtime winner against BC in Harvard’s first win.
Sophomore midfielders Christian Sady, Nate Divine, and Sam Brown—last year's Ivy League Rookie of the Year—will also look to improve upon rookie campaigns in which they each tied for the team lead with five assists.
In addition, the team has welcomed five freshmen to the squad and a total of seven new additions overall.
With the Crimson retaining what he calls a “core group of guys,” Ashby says that the team has big aspirations for the upcoming season. Wheeler-Omiunu even mentioned the possibility of winning a national title. But no one’s looking that far ahead just yet.
“We know that if we stay focused, the end goal will come,” Ashby said. “Obviously we have ambitions, but right now, we’re just looking at LMU.”
—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at email@example.com.
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