With one strike of the foot by freshman midfielder Cornelius Bencsik, the struggles of the past 80 minutes and the entire first half of the season washed away for Harvard men’s soccer.
Entering hostile territory in New Haven, Conn., the Crimson (2-5-1, 1-0-0 Ivy League) rallied from a goal down to snatch a crucial victory against Yale (3-5-0, 0-1-0) as the teams embark on a new Ancient Eight season.
Harvard had lost three straight entering Saturday and had been shutout for more than 180 minutes. The team seemed destined to drop another game as the Bulldogs went into the final ten minutes with a one-goal lead, courtesy of a 29th minute finish by freshman forward Aldo Quevado.
Bad luck and missed chances seemed to bite the Crimson once again—a deflected clearance by sophomore defensive midfielder Joel Serugo gave Yale the tap-in lead.
That lead lasted until Bencsik struck a volley from the edge of the penalty box to bring the game back to square one. The Bulldog defense struggled to clear a long throw-in from Serugo and the Norwegian midfielder rocketed the loose ball into the back of the net.
Almost exactly four minutes later, senior midfielder Christian Sady drove another shot past Yale junior goalkeeper Kees Schipper, whose sprawling effort and partial deflection could not keep out the go-ahead goal.
These two finishes clinched a much-needed win as Harvard plunges into its tough conference schedule. Bencsik’s tally materialized the efforts of a hard-fought game in which just five shots were put on frame and four yellow cards were handed out. It also seemed to catalyze an offense that had scored just four goals in seven games.
“There were quite a few momentum swings throughout the game, but overall we fought extremely hard and we fought as a team,” co-captain and defender Justin Cricklow said. “That’s something that we’ve been struggling with throughout the season, but in this game we showed that we had a lot of grit.”
Success seems to act as a stabilizing force as the Crimson looks to build momentum. Sady’s finish may serve as the winner to a game that ultimately turns around Harvard’s season.
“I think that we’ve been a lot closer to winning other games, and yesterday it just felt like a huge weight had been taken off our shoulders because we were able to get the win,” Cricklow said.
Indeed, the Crimson found itself in a difficult situation on Saturday. The team faced a jeering crowd at the Bulldogs’ Reese Stadium, and conditions only got worse when Quevado gave the home team an early lead to work with.
“Whenever you go up to Yale, it’s a really tough game and there’s a lot of emotion around the first Ivy League game,” Sady said. “There’s a lot of intensity and I thought we did a good job and I thought that we handled it really well.”
The Bulldogs controlled possession for much of the first half, occupying Harvard’s defensive third and winning four corner kicks. But senior goalkeeper Kyle Parks and the Crimson’s defense limited the damage to just one goal. This strong play allowed the offense to find its feet in the second half and to ultimately outshoot Yale.
“It all came down to us working harder than them for the entire 90 minutes and I think that’s how we are going to find our success moving forward as well,” Cricklow said. “There were definitely parts of the game that we can improve. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but we worked harder than them and that’s how we won.”
The hard work certainly paid dividends in the game, but Saturday’s success also marks progress in terms of team building.
“We’ve had different players in the starting lineup for the past few games, and just finding that rhythm and seeing who plays best with who,” Cricklow said. “I think we started to get an indication of that yesterday and just building that team chemistry and on-the-field chemistry is huge for us.”
During the team’s slow start, in which Harvard won just one of seven games, it might have been hard to see how the team was coming together. But perhaps the non-conference games were just a symptom of slow development.
“I am continuing to look forward to watching up come together as a team in time of adversity,” Sady said. “So when we are down goals in games, how we respond to that. If we lose a game in the Ivy League, how we respond to that. It’s my hope that we won’t cave in and we will come around each other, and I know we will.”
—Staff writer William Quan can be reached at email@example.com.
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