As impressive as the men’s soccer non-conference performance was, everyone knew the season truly started Saturday night. And the Bulldogs did not disappoint.

Yale opened up Ivy League play with a solid win over rival Harvard, 3-1, in front of a sell-out crowd at the Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium.

“In any Ivy league game the outcome is what’s important,” head coach Brian Tompkins said. “I’m delighted with the win. I thought we played well in the first half, in the second they got us on our heels, but the guys were resilient and determined to get the job done.”

Repeating a theme that recurred throughout the season, Yale got off to a fast start by taking an early first half lead, this time with Liam Leonard ’09 providing the spark. Leonard — who has made the most of his opportunity since replacing injured captain Shannon Brooks ’06 in the starting lineup — scored his second goal in as many games in the sixth minute off of a Jon Carlos ’09 feed. The Bulldogs had a chance to take a two-goal lead midway through the first half, but Harvard goalie Ryan Johnson denied a penalty shot off the foot of forward Alex Munns ’07. But Munns would soon make amends, setting up Carlos with a perfect cross for Yale’s second goal of the night with five minutes left in the half.

Yale was mostly led by the speedy Carlos, who was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week, as he flashed his play-making ability. On several occasions when it seemed the Bulldog attack had stalled, Carlos would race through the defense and craftily regain possession of the ball to keep the attack alive. Tompkins attributed the offensive success to Carlos’ ability to consistently put pressure on the defense from the wing.

“Jon was tremendous tonight,” Tompkins said. “The first goal was all him when he made that great cut-back and found Liam. He’s so fast down the sideline, he can run all day.”

The Bulldogs stormed off the field at halftime to the raucous approval of their fans. But judging by the team’s play in the second half, Harvard was not fazed by the theatrics.

Momentum shifted in the Crimson’s favor after a strategic move. Harvard put a fifth player in the midfield, which put pressure on the swamped Bulldogs defense. While the Crimson could not control Yale’s speedy attack during the first half, it was now Harvard who controlled the tempo, consistently holding onto possession in the Yale zone. The Crimson broke through with a penalty kick by John Stamatis in the 56th minute.

Harvard maintained its pressure deep into the second half as the fatigued Bulldog defense fought off chance after chance. Right when it seemed as if the win might slip away, Yale cleared the ball to set up their counterattack, and Munns eliminated all doubt in the 84th minute. The Harvard goalie appeared to have intercepted a Yale cross, but the ball deflected off his hands right to the opportunistic Munns who banged it through the empty net. The stadium erupted in excitement and then quickly shared a collective sigh of relief.

Although many of the Yale starters were playing in their first Harvard game, they did not wilt under the rivalry hype. Instead, the Elis, who have struggled with second half lapses all year, showed their maturity as a team.

“The second half was not the prettiest soccer we’ve ever played,” midfielder James Stewart ’07 said. “But at the end of the day we got the result. Hopefully we can take a lesson from this as far as hanging in a sloppy fight and holding onto the lead.”

As forward Josh Block ’07 explained, the game against Harvard was an early season litmus test, and so far the results are optimistic.

“It’s a good sign that we’re going to be pretty competitive for the Ivy season,” Block said. “We won 3-1 and didn’t even have our best performance. So if we continue with our improvement we can do some damage.”

The Bulldogs travel to Central Connecticut State on Tuesday before restarting Ivy League play at home on Saturday against Dartmouth.

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