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Men's Soccer Faces Uphill Road to Ivy Title

By Jake Meagher, Crimson Staff Writer

With the first two months of the season in the books, the Harvard men’s soccer team has reached the final stretch of its campaign. And with the team boasting a 9-4-2 record, one would think that the Crimson should be sitting pretty.

Nonetheless, despite holding its best record since 2009—the last time Harvard reached the NCAA Tournament—the Crimson would happily trade away a few wins to go back in time.

At this time last year, Harvard possessed a meager 5-7-2 record. But that Crimson team had one advantage that this year’s does not—control over its own destiny.

Initially an afterthought of the Ivy League following its 1-6-2 start, Harvard climbed to the top of the table by winning four consecutive conference games. Despite its losing record, the Crimson could wrap up the Ancient Eight with wins in its final two games.

One year later, Harvard now faces a different situation. The Crimson is currently tied for third with Penn (6-7-2, 2-1-2 Ivy)—trailing both Princeton (8-3-3, 3-1-1) and Dartmouth (9-4-2, 3-1-1) by two points.

How is this possible? Well, in its second season under Harvard coach Pieter Lehrer, the Crimson has made significant strides in nonconference play, posting a 7-3 record and scoring 2.3 goals per game. But in Ivy play, Harvard has failed to produce the same results, recording just 1.2 goals per game en route to a 2-1-2 record.

The Crimson jumped out to an early lead in the Ancient Eight after grabbing two wins and a tie in its opening three contests, but Harvard could not maintain its advantage on the road against the Tigers and the Big Green.

Against Princeton, despite going up a man in the 37th minute, the Crimson could not handle the Tigers’ offense, conceding the game’s first three goals. Harvard would stage a late comeback attempt, but to no avail, as the Crimson had dug itself too deep a hole to climb out of.

Then in Hanover last weekend, Harvard mustered just a single shot against Dartmouth. Fortunately for the Crimson, however, senior midfielder Kyle Henderson put the team’s lone shot in the back of the net, lifting Harvard to a 1-1 draw.

These kinds of road results have been the norm for the Crimson. Harvard has won just one game away from home this year—a come from behind win over UMass, who currently possesses a 2-14-1 record. Additionally, the Crimson has not beaten Princeton on the road since 2008 and Dartmouth since 2006.

But even so, there is something special about this Harvard team when it shows up to play in Cambridge. Despite its road woes, the Crimson has absolutely dominated its competition at home, going a perfect eight-for-eight on the season. And with the team needing a win this weekend to keep its title hopes alive, Harvard will be right where it thrives—Soldiers Field.

With the conference standings the way they are though, much more than a perfect home record will be on the line for the Crimson when Columbia (6-6-1, 2-2-1) arrives on Senior Night. In fact, it is hardly a stretch to consider the matchup an elimination game.

Even a tie might not be all that beneficial to either side, as Yale and Brown, the conference cellar-dwellers, should hardly pose a problem for the Tigers and the Big Green respectively on the season’s final Saturday. Assuming either Princeton or Dartmouth picks up a win then, it would be impossible for Harvard to be crowned champion if it draws with the Lions.

Furthermore, given the nature of next week’s matchups, if the Crimson hopes to top the table, there will have to be plenty of shakeup this Saturday. Harvard will be rooting for both Cornell (9-5-1, 2-3) and Penn as they take on Dartmouth and Princeton respectively.

If both the Quakers and the Big Red pick up at least a point (in addition to Harvard defeating Columbia), the Crimson will get the matchup it has been dreaming of for an entire year in its season finale—a rematch against Penn with yet another conference championship on the line. But hey, who’s looking that far ahead?

—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at jmeagher@college.harvard.edu.

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