Rain may have prevented the men’s soccer team from facing University of Connecticut Wednesday, but there is no rain in the forecast for Saturday when the Bulldogs face Harvard in Cambridge.
Both teams have identical Ivy and very similar overall records, and both have had big wins over top teams. Neither the Bulldogs (7-1-1, 1-0-1 Ivy) nor the Crimson (7-3-1, 1-0-1) are nationally ranked, although Yale has been ranked as high as No. 14, and the two teams are seeded fourth and eighth in New England, respectively. Add the heated play that any Harvard-Yale contest provides, and the Elis will not have an easy time against their Cantab counterparts Saturday.
“The game is going to be a hard fought game,” said defender Brian Roberts ’04. “I expect it to be one of the best games of the season.”
Except for their 1-0 loss at Hofstra, the Elis have not faltered on the road, remaining able to create and finish their own offensive chances.
“We’ve done pretty well on the road so far,” head coach Brian Tompkins said. “We’ve managed to do the things that we want to do in terms of possessing the ball and attacking and scoring goals. We’re learning how to defend better in away games.”
Defense will certainly be a key for the Bulldogs against Harvard. The Crimson boasts two dangerous offensive threats in Ladd Fritz and Kevin Ara.
Ara is in the top two of nearly every Ivy League offensive category, including total points and goals per game. He has combined with Fritz to score nearly two thirds of the Cantabs’ goals this season.
“[Ara] is someone that needs to be accounted for,” Tompkins said. “We’re very much aware that Harvard is a team that has come from behind to win a number of games. They’re a very dangerous team offensively.”
Harvard’s biggest comeback came against the University of Hartford. Down 4-0 at halftime, the Crimson rebounded with six second half goals against the hapless Hawks.
Yale defeated Hartford 4-0.
“The defense will just have to limit outside shots and generally play hard as we normally do,” Roberts said.
Harvard, however, will have their own hands full as well with Yale’s front two lines. Harvard and Yale lead the Ivy League in shots per game.
“My feeling is that they are going to have to worry about matching up with us,” said captain Stu Yingst ’03, who scored a goal in the Bulldogs’ most recent game against Dartmouth. “We simply need to come out focused and sharp at the start. We need to get the first goal and play well-organized soccer.”
Harvard head coach John Kerr noted that midfielder Jay Alberts ’03 is one of his favorite Ivy League players, and added that “[Justin Burton ’04 and Lindsey Williams ’05] are a good combination — quick and aggressive.”
Last season, in his first collegiate game, Williams scored both Yale goals in the Elis’ 4-2 loss to Harvard.
This game, while only the third Ivy League contest for each team, will have a tremendous affect on Ancient Eight standings. The loser of the contest will be dealt its first league loss, which could be debilitating in a close race at the end of the season.
“This game could be our season, as we are both forerunners for the league,” Yingst said. “This head-to-head matchup might decide the Ivy League in the end.”
As was shown last weekend when all three Ancient Eight games ended in a tie, previous games and records seem to be of no significance because of the intensity with which all Ivy teams play each other.
“With the Harvard-Yale game you can throw everything out the window,” Kerr said. “If we were both 1-10 it would still be an awesome game.”
As it is, each team is far from having a 1-10 record, and the game is an extremely important one that could make or break what has been a successful season for Yale.
“Mentally we know that we have a job to do and this is a game we must have,” Yingst said. “The whole Harvard-Yale hoopla is irrelevant.”