Both have valiantly battled nationally ranked teams. Both have had dazzling defensive streaks. Both have a new crop of freshmen driving the offense. Any way one cuts it, Saturday’s women’s soccer game between the Crimson (5-2-1, 0-0-1 Ivy) and the Bulldogs (8-2, 1-0 Ivy) is an even matchup.

The afternoon affair at Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium is only the Elis’ third home game this season. The Bulldogs have weathered their daunting schedule with flying colors, taking six of eight away from New Haven — their only two losses coming against No. 1 North Carolina and No. 9 Duke the first weekend of the season.

The streaking Elis, which have won their last eight games, are excited to return to the Elm City.

“It’s definitely nice to be home, especially since the community hasn’t had much of a chance to see this play,” Yale head coach Rudy Meredith said. “It’s exciting to kick off a three or four game home stretch, especially with the big recruiting weekend this weekend.”

Yet team captain Eleni Benson ’06 said the team is used to playing the role of road warrior.

“This is the most away games I’ve ever played, and I think that we’ve adapted well, and it could almost be strange to play at home,” Benson said. “The more time that we will have is good and bad. We will finally have plenty of time to prepare for each team and also get more excited for each game, but hopefully we will not lose focus.”

Last year’s Ancient Eight season kicked off with the same Big Three adversaries, but the venues reversed. The Elis were pounded by Princeton at home on opening weekend, then lost a frustrating 1-0 decision in Boston the following Friday. Still rolling off Saturday’s triumph over the Tigers, the Bulldogs would love to ride the momentum into an inverted 2-0 Ivy start in 2005.

“It would be huge for our program, and a huge step in trying to win the Ivy League title,” Meredith said. “Similarly to the Princeton game, the Crimson have lots of weapons to beat you, and because it’s Yale-Harvard, it’s automatically going to be high intensity.”

While the team that eked past Yale at Ohiri Field last year has been retooled, the Crimson are just as formidable of a threat as before. Former Harvard assistant Stephanie Erickson, only the third head coach in program history, took over the reins this season, and has presided over a team that has been defensively spectacular thus far.

Coming off of last Saturday’s scoreless tie against Penn, the Cantabs have only allowed three goals in eight matches — a stat that has a lot to do with senior goalkeeper Katie Shields, who notched her fourth straight shutout against the Quakers.

“Katie’s one of the best goalkeepers in the league, maybe even top 10 in the country,” Meredith said. “The defense does great job around her and she compliments them with the saves.”

The defense will have to keep carrying the load if the Crimson’s slow start up front continues. Just like the Elis, the Cantab freshmen have been at the forefront of the offense, but scoring in the Bay State has come at a premium. Harvard’s rookies have accounted for three of a total five goals. In comparison, Yale’s newcomers have booted in nine of the 16 scores this season.

After a rocky week healthwise, Meredith expects his squad to be back at full force by 4 p.m. tomorrow. Hayley Zevenbergen ’09 took Tuesday night off to nurse a hip flexor injury while forward Jamie Ortega ’06 and goalie Susan Starr ’08 were benched because of illness.

Harvard being Harvard, there is clearly much hype for tomorrow’s game. But ultimately, Meredith sees tomorrow as only the beginning of the battle for the league crown.

“Right now, we see that Harvard tied Penn and Dartmouth beat Brown last weekend,” he said. “All of those teams all have to play each other, and all of those four have a chance to win the league. Sure, this weekend is Harvard, but Dartmouth will be no easier.”