Last Saturday’s tilt against Columbia epitomized the frustration Harvard has faced in the 2017 men’s soccer season. Unable to successfully defend set pieces and struggling to generate offense, the Crimson fell to the Lions 6-0 in New York.
Harvard (2-9-4, 1-2-2 Ivy) will have the week off before hosting Penn (3-12-1, 1-4-1) in Saturday’s season finale at Jordan Field. Although the match will have no impact on the Ancient Eight title, it will have extra significance for seven Crimson players.
Saturday will mark the last time that co-captains Justin Crichlow and Eric Gylling, along with fellow seniors Nate Devine, Nathan Goldberg, Ibukun Omotowa, Kyle Parks, and Christian Sady will don the white and red. The seven players from the graduating class of 2018 will be recognized before Saturday’s match.
The graduating seniors have had an immense impact on the Harvard men’s soccer program over the past four years, guiding the team to 32 victories over the past four seasons. Even beyond on field performance, the seniors have played a huge role, especially in their relationships with underclassmen.
“It was hard at first, being a new player,” said talented freshman midfielder/forward Paolo Belloni-Urso. “But a lot of the seniors took me in and tried to show me that I had a voice as a young player, and that I had a role to play as well.”
Offensively, senior midfielder Sady has recorded the second most points on the team this season. Sady’s go-ahead goal at Yale in the dying minutes sealed a 2-1 comeback win over the Bulldogs, arguably the team’s best performance of the season.
I haven’t really thought it about it too much honestly, it hasn’t really kicked in that this is going to be my last game,” Sady admitted. “But obviously there might be a little added emotion and excitement surrounding Saturday.”
Defensively, a stout unit anchored by mainstays Crichlow and Gylling has been crucial in the team’s successes the season. Gylling’s consistency has been especially impressive, as the Sacramento, Ca. native has started each of the team’s 15 games this season.
Behind the defense, Parks has been outstanding between the posts throughout the 2017 campaign, breaking various career-highs and keeping the Crimson in several tightly contested matches, many of which ended in double-overtime ties.
Playing in all but two matches, Parks elevated his play against nationally ranked New Hampshire and Dartmouth, conceding just one goal in each contest and recording eleven saves in each, a career high.
Although the season has been a frustrating one for the Crimson, Saturday’s opponent, Penn, bodes well for the season finishing on a positive note. Mired in a three-game losing streak, the Quakers are in the cellar of the Ivy League standings, and have registered just win road win all season.
At the root of Penn’s problems in the 2017 season has been difficulty between the posts and on defense. Goalkeepers Etan Mabourakh and Scott Forbes have conceded 31 goals on just 82 shots, with only one shutout all season.
To find success against the Quakers, Harvard will have to launch shots on goal early and often. The Crimson was only able to muster two shots in each of its past two losses against Dartmouth and Columbia. In order to capitalize on Penn’s poor goalkeeping, the team must reverse this trend and look to challenge Mabourakh or Forbes.
Recent history bodes well for Harvard, winners of two straight against Penn, including a 6-0 victory in 2015. Overall, the Crimson lead the series over the Quakers, by a 38-34-5 tally.
Despite a respectable 2-4 road mark, Harvard has yet to tally a win on home turf, recording a 0-5-4 mark in Cambridge. Thankfully for the graduating seniors and the rest of the Crimson, Saturday marks one final opportunity to take the field in search of a win.
While the 2017 campaign has not been as successful as the Crimson might have hoped, the same cannot be said of the four-year stint the graduating class has spent in Cambridge.
“This is the most impactful, life-changing group of people that I’ve ever been a part of,” Sady said. “And I’m extremely grateful for that.”
Although this season is coming to a close for Harvard men’s soccer, the future of the team is bright. Players like Belloni-Urso, sophomore forward Philip Hausen, and freshman keeper Matt Freese, hope to continue the culture that this year’s seniors helped established.
“The seniors played a major role this year,” Belloni-Urso explained. “But I feel that the juniors will step up and the rest of the team will continue to mature. We’re just trying to cherish this last week together.”