When the women’s soccer team plays Harvard Saturday, the Bulldogs will be playing for more than another opportunity to defeat their greatest rival.

The Bulldogs’ (6-3-1, 1-2 Ivy) double overtime loss to No. 22 Dartmouth last Sunday effectively ended their campaign for the Ivy League championship and seriously endangered their postseason hopes. After a 6-1-1 start, Yale has dropped two straight and a sense of desperation has emerged as the Elis are close to eliminating themselves from the NCAA postseason picture.

“It’s a must-win,” captain Ali Cobbett ’03 said. “The whole season comes down to this game. We’re not out of it yet.”

The Bulldogs need another quality win to attract consideration for an at-large bid to the NCAAs. They could salvage their season-long dream with a win against the Cantabs (6-4-1, 1-0 Ivy), who are ranked No. 3 in the Northeast.

“We know that this game is must-win,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “Harvard is a good team and considered one of the best in the region. Everyone needs to step up.”

But the Bulldogs will be shorthanded on Saturday. Lauren Gillies ’03, whose blazing speed up front has been sorely missed, will continue to be sidelined with a bone bruise and the backfield will be without defenseman Maureen Metzger ’05. Metzger, a rock-solid defender, is suffering from mononucleosis.

With Gillies and Metzger out of action, Yale has reconfigured its formation. The Bulldogs will play with two forwards instead of the usual three.

“We don’t usually change our game plan much, but we have some players missing,” Cobbett said. “It’s a little more defensive, but that’s not our intention.”

A 1-0 loss against No. 10 University of Connecticut Oct. 6 snapped the Eli’s five-game winning streak that had propelled them to the top 10 in the polls. But the loss against Dartmouth, which was a double overtime loss to an Ivy League opponent, had greater consequences.

“[The loss against Dartmouth] was a lot worse than the loss against UConn,” Cobbett said. “It was really tough.”

The midseason has taken its toll on the Bulldogs, who are currently amid a four-game road trip.

“Every other team is going through this too and they are winning,” Cobbett said. “There are no excuses or explanations.”

The Bulldogs know they have to get their act together.

“We realize the significance of the Harvard game,” Cobbett said. “If we win, it would be a sure sign of making the playoffs, provided we also win the rest of the games.” Bragging rights are also at stake. Last year, Yale fell to Harvard in double overtime on a free kick in the 110th minute.

“It’s a little more intense,” Cobbett said. “I personally dislike Harvard more than the other teams in the conference. But, in terms of rivalry, they are just like any other top Ivy team.”