Collegiate soccer is a game that would have made Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel share a knowing smile. The nature of athletic recruiting for college soccer means that teams, players, coaches and game-time strategies must constantly evolve and grow in order to remain competitive.
But this is a competition that the Harvard men’s soccer team has been losing for some time now.
When I took up the Harvard men’s soccer beat, I thought I knew what to expect. I was very cognizant of the fact that this year’s squad—much like the one from last year—was a team under construction, and that this was probably not the team that would allow me to relive the heydays of 2009, my freshman fall, when Andre Akpan and the class of 2009 took the Crimson faithful to the promised land of Ivy League glory.
Any team that loses unique talents such as Mike Fucito ’08, midfielder for the Seattle Sounders, and Akpan '09, forward for the Colorado Rapids, in consecutive years is bound to struggle as it rebuilds.
Instead my expectations were tempered. My hope was that I would somehow witness and chronicle the rebirth of a once dominant and nationally-ranked soccer program, as new talent would replace the old and the team and program would move into contention.
But what I have instead witnessed is not growth, but a failure to evolve with the change in times.
So far in this year’s campaign, the squad hasn’t found much luck on the soccer pitch.
Harvard has only two wins out of 15 games, with its last victory coming in mid-September against a weak UMass squad. Furthermore, the opposition has outscored the Crimson, 22-11.
At this point last year, the Crimson was sitting in the middle of the Ivy League table in fourth place, having captured five points in league play and conceding 15 goals in 15 games. Today, Harvard has actually lost fewer games than at this point in 2010, but the team is drawing matches that it should be winning and conceding almost 50 percent more goals.
Quite simply, these are not statistics worthy of a program that is aspiring to taste Ivy and national glory once again.
While much has already been made of the failings of Harvard’s front line and its inability to find the back of the net, last season and earlier this year, it has been the Crimson backline that has failed the team and its fans this season.
That the Harvard backline surrendered three preventable goals last game against Colgate is an example of the problems that the team has faced. But the problem at hand extends far beyond just one game.
Against Rhode Island, the Crimson defense inexplicably left a man unmarked in the box during a set piece. Working off a long throw-in, a Rams forward was able to fire a header on goal that just arched over a sprawling junior goalkeeper Brett Conrad, costing Harvard the game, 2-1. At Vermont, in a very similar set-up, the Harvard backline left one attacker unmanned in the box, who summarily leapt to head the ball past senior goalkeeper Austin Harms for the 1-0 victory. And at Boston College, the defense would concede two goals and 15 shots in a game that ended 2-0, but could have easily ended as 5-0 loss for the Crimson.
This season, Cornell currently leads the pack with a 3-0-2 record in Ancient Eight play and 8-1-5 overall. At this point last year, the Big Red was winless in Ivy play and not even close to finishing its season above .500.
But what differentiates Cornell’s squad this year from last year is its new found strength on defense. As the season currently stands, Cornell have given up just three goals in Ivy play and nine goals for the season, as opposed the Crimson’s nine goals allowed in Ivy play and 22 overall.
Though a little more verve may have returned to Harvard’s front line given its three-goal performance against Colgate in last Tuesday’s come-from-behind tie, the Crimson will remain seriously vulnerable and weak even if it holds the lead with the defense as it is.
As another promising fall fades away into a fruitless and cold winter, the Crimson are once again faced with fact that it must evolve and grow in terms of its personnel, game play and coaching, or it continue to fall behind its Ivy rivals.
Harvard cannot persist with this system of stagnation.
—Staff writer Oluwatoni A. Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.