Maybe there’s a contagious disease that we Elis haven’t discovered yet, but Harvard yet again handed defeat to Yale — this time, in women’s soccer.
The Harvard-itis resulted in a 3-1 loss for Yale (5-5-1, 0-2 Ivy) and gave Harvard (4-3-3, 1-1) more bragging rights in the oldest of collegiate rivalries.
“They were just ready for everything we threw at them,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “They scouted us real well and actually changed their normal formation and lineup for us.”
Up until the Ivy season started, Yale was clicking on all cylinders offensively and coming out quickly against teams like Stanford and Santa Clara. However, with the start of the Ivy League season, the quick starts and instant offense disappeared, replaced with sluggish starts and deficits heading into halftime.
“Teams like Stanford and Santa Clara didn’t really scout us too well and we were able to surprise them a bit with our game plan,” Meredith said. “But now that we’re in the Ivies, the other teams — especially Harvard — are watching our game film and have actually adjusted their lineups and formations to match up with us and exploit our weaknesses.”
One of those weaknesses is a lack of overall team speed. The Elis have counteracted this against slightly faster and more athletic teams by being patient and dictating the pace of play. However, against Harvard on Saturday, it was the Crimson who dictated play when they aggressively played three forwards instead of their normal two. That added pressure caught the Bulldogs off balance and had them on their heels for the entire first half, leading to a 10-3 shot differential.
Even so, Yale was hanging tough until Harvard caught a bit of a break with gusty winds swirling in the stadium. The Crimson attacker Katherine Sheeleigh got behind the defense and crossed the ball towards the goal. That’s when a gust of wind caught the ball and went off of defender Sophia Merrifield ’09 for a fluky opening goal.
“It was going to be a no-prob-Bob cross that Sophie could’ve easily gotten to,” said Ali Giusto ’10. “But then the wind kind of caught it and it ended up going off Sophie and towards the near post.”
And with that, the wind came out of Yale’s sails. “It’s a completely different game when you’re playing from behind — especially against a counter-attacking offense like Harvard,” said Meredith.
Even so, the Bulldogs didn’t give up and just before halftime, mustered up a great opportunity when Becky Brown ’11 took a cross and netted the ball. But before Yale could celebrate the equalizer, the sideline referee whistled the play dead and called Brown offsides.
“[The call] looked questionable from our perspective, but our bench was way behind the play,” said Enma Mullo ’12, who was out with a foot injury and had a view of the play from the sidelines. “Our coaches talked to the ref at halftime and she said [Brown] was definitely offside.”
In any case, without the all-important equalizer, the Bulldogs were forced to go into the second half facing a 1-0 deficit on what Meredith called a “soft goal.”
The Elis then came out in the second half playing much more aggressively and pressing for a chance to tie the game. But that was exactly what Harvard hoped Yale would do. With the roots of its counter-attacking offense based upon forcing turnovers, Harvard capitalized on a couple of Yale giveaways to net two goals and push the lead to 3-0 before Maggie Westfal ’09 finally scored in the 85th minute for the final score of 3-1.
“Because you’re down a goal, you end up pressing and playing riskier passes than you normally would,” Meredith said. “They just took advantage of that and scored off the counter-attack.”
The loss is a crippling second defeat for the Bulldogs as they remain winless in the Ivy League. Although they are not out of the Ivy title race, they will have to win the rest of their games in order to have any chance of winning the conference.
In order to do that, they will have to take a page out of Harvard’s playbook and adjust to their opponents.
“We started off trying to score once every six shots,” Meredith said. “But the Ivy teams have been putting us on our heels a bit and holding us to a much lower percentage than that. To cover up our weaknesses and exploit [the other team’s], we’re gonna have to make adjustments to our formations and lineups, week in, week out, to put them on their heels.”