Everyone knows about The Game. It’s an epic story of two vaunted Ivy League teams facing off in the final match of the season. It’s also a football game.
This year, a different kind of football team — the men’s soccer team — will take the field for a senior day match-up against archrival No. 15 Harvard (11-3-2, 4-2 Ivy).
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The soccer season finale is slated to begin at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow on a high-stakes stage at Reese Stadium. It has been 19 years since the Bulldogs met Harvard in the final game of the season. The Elis (4-7-5, 2-2-2) need to top the Crimson to finish above .500 in conference play, but the Cantabs’ hopes for an at-large NCAA College Cup bid depend on the outcome of the contest.
“It’ll definitely be a great day for a game,” defender Alex Guzinski ’09 said. “We’ll have alumni back, and being senior day, it will be a special day for the team. The most important thing to keep in mind is that it is just another game. As long as we get out there and take care of business, we should be okay.”
The Bulldogs’ four graduating players — captain and goalkeeper Erik Geiger ’08, goalkeeper Dwayne Whylly ’08, and defenders James Craig ’08 and Matt Perille ’08 — will say farewell to Yale soccer on Saturday. Members of a class that has defeated Harvard twice in its tenure hope to end their careers with a final victory against the visiting Cantabs.
But the third place Crimson will give the Elis their fifth sampling of play against a nationally ranked squad. After meeting No. 8 BC, No. 25 Dartmouth, No. 5 Brown and No. 1 UConn, the Bulldogs are not newcomers to facing off against highly talented teams.
But the drama of the Harvard-Yale rivalry pushes this contest to the forefront.
“Going up against them is a big game every year,” Guzinski said. “Considering that they won the league last year and they’ve been ranked the whole year gives us that much more incentive to play well. It’s not going to be hard to get everyone motivated to play.”
The Crimson boast the ninth-best scoring offense in the country with a 2.31 goals per game average. Forward Andre Akpan’s 1.94 points per game put him at second in the nation, behind UConn’s O’Brian White — who scored two goals against Yale — and make him the best in the Ivy League.
The stellar front line, among the best in the conference, is the Cantabs’ real threat, as their defense allows a significant number of shots — 14.19 per game — but gives up relatively few goals, thanks to acceptable net-minding by Adam Hahn’s .753 save percentage.
“They’ve certainly got some talented individuals capable of winning the game on their own,” Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said. “It’ll be a matter of how good a job we do of defending them. If we can contain them and execute, ourselves, it should be a good game.”
Harvard’s potency is evident, but the Elis have come a long way over the course of the season. The Bulldogs’ pair of Ancient Eight victories — in which the teams scored six goals — eclipses the combined 10 goals scored in all other matches this season.
Contributions from the freshman class, which has notched seven of the Elis’ total scores, have steadily increased. Their presence, along with a four-goal burst of offensive output from forward Kevin Pope ’10, has been invaluable for the Bulldogs.
“Everyone has improved a little bit this year,” Pope said. “We’ve done a pretty good job of that. In almost every aspect we’ve tried to improve that much more.”
But the recent production in the offensive third is only the icing on the cake for a squad with an impenetrable back line. The defense is the rock for the Yale men and allows only 1.12 goals per game, third best in the conference.
The back line is also the source of attacking plays that stem from balls’ being passed up the field. Tompkins said the development and emergence of the junior class as the backbone of the team have been essential this season.
Acting as an unyielding last line of defense, keeper Geiger has kept the Elis in a number of games, never posting more than a two-goal deficit.
The script calls for a battle between the Cantabs’ powerful front line and the Bulldogs’ unyielding defense. But, as all with Ivy contests, Harvard-Yale promises extra suspense because of the age-old rivalry, because it is the last game, because it is at home.
“The environment is going to be a more intense and excited environment than a typical weekend because it is Yale-Harvard,” Tompkins said. “It’s exciting for the players to be featured on such an important day in the history of Yale athletics. For them to have the good fortune of playing on that day is something they’ll never forget.”