UPDATED: October 8, 2015, at 4:36 p.m.
In 2013, the Harvard men’s soccer team was experiencing a rags-to-riches fantasy in conference play. A year removed from its second straight season without a win in Ivy League play, new head coach Pieter Lehrer had his team on the cusp of the Ancient Eight title.
After struggling throughout nonconference play and dropping its conference opener at Yale, the Crimson rattled off five consecutive Ivy wins and only needed a tie against Penn at home to claim the title.
That was the score, in favor of Penn, which sent Harvard spiraling back down to earth on that cold November night.
Though the loss stung, there was a silver lining to the situation. There was talk of the Crimson becoming a perennial Ivy League contender under Lehrer, of competing yearly in the NCAA tournament, even whispers of a Cinderella run to the national title.
Fast forward to the present: After two years of “almost” for the Crimson, this season is arguably the best opportunity to finally take the next step and claim the conference title which has eluded Lehrer’s men.
At the end of this year, Harvard loses a class which features seven players who have started at least five games this season. But that’s just the start.
The Class of 2015 has combined for eight of the nine goals scored this season and contains the Crimson’s attacking core of Tim Schmoll, Jake Freeman, and Oliver White.
Leading assist man Michael Klain will be another casualty of graduation for an offense that has struggled at times this season.
Defensively, Harvard has had early admission to the difficulties of losing a member of this year’s senior class. Without captain and reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Mark Ashby due to injury, the backline has looked susceptible at times, particularly in transition.
In 2016, the Crimson will not be able to hope Ashby returns from injury anymore. Another defensive stalwart who has provided stability in the backline, Andrew Chang, will no longer be on the field as well.
Further back, Harvard will bid adieu to starting goalkeeper Evan Mendez, whose saves have kept the Crimson afloat on various occasions. The damage does not stop there, as backup keeper Joe Festa will be gone as well, stripping the team of keepers with collegiate experience.
All in all, 11 of 29 players will don the H for the last time in their careers this year.
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