The end of the road was not pretty for the men’s soccer team.
After a season of ups and downs — and ties — Yale on Saturday dropped a disappointing game, 4-0, to No. 15 Harvard at home to wrap up its year placed fifth in the Ivy League. The loss looked more like a Bulldogs game from September, when the Elis opened the season with a series of early losses.
The game began with fairly even play through the opening 30 minutes. The Cantabs and Bulldogs swapped possession and control of the game, while the Eli defense limited the Crimson to just three of their 14 total shots.
The home team’s ability to keep up with the potent Harvard offense was reminiscent of its dexterity in earlier matches against No. 8 Boston College and No.1 UConn.
“It started out fairly even, but the old demons came back,” Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said. “We had moments of poor concentration, and we paid dearly for not taking control of some of the small details.”
The Cantabs’ killer offense broke through in the 37th minute with a go-ahead goal. The Ivy’s top goal scorer, Andre Akpan, crossed the ball inside to Marcel Perl, whose quick header flew past a pair of defenders and captain and goalkeeper Erik Geiger ’08.
Barely one minute later, Akpan received a cross and pushed the ball just inside the near post to pull the Crimson ahead, 2-0, right before the half.
“It happens,” defender Frank Piasta ’09 said. “They have the best player in the league, and we ended up letting in a free header and then they got another goal quick. We tried to come back and we started to counterattack.”
The Elis’ early habit of losing concentration with under 10 minutes on the clock — which cost them five late goals this season — reappeared in the Harvard match after Yale had seemed to kick it in recent matches.
The Bulldogs’ attacking was a flashback to the “bad luck offense” of the first half of the year. The squad managed just nine shots — only one of which was on frame — and was unable to come back to bring the score within two.
The Bulldogs ended up losing by a four-goal margin for the first time this season.
“It’s always tough to score, but that’s the name of the game,” midfielder Jordan Raybould ’10 said. “Otherwise you just end up tying a lot — which we did. If you get a goal it makes all the difference. [Harvard’s first goal] was just a game-changing moment.”
The second half was not much better for the floundering Bulldogs. The Crimson’s Michael Fucito put two more balls away in the middle of the stanza to boost the Cantabs’ lead to an insurmountable 4-0.
Fucito’s first goal was a hard-to-block ball that got knocked around inside the six-yard box before being headed past netminder Dwayne Whylly ’08.
The second of Fucito’s scores was the real backbreaker for the Elis. On a counterattack after a Yale free kick in Harvard territory, Fucito received the ball and fluidly shot up the field on a one-on-one breakaway with defender James Craig ’08.
Craig, who has had a breakout senior year, could not match the visiting team’s fastest forward. Fucito placed an easy shot beyond Whylly’s grasp.
“Their front six is one of the best in the country,” Geiger said. “They’re going to score. That’s their M.O. — to score a lot of goals. We gave the ball away, but it’s just growing pains with a young team. It’s been a work in progress this year.”
The Bulldogs left the field disappointed after what may have been their worst game of the year. But team members said they are optimistic about the squad’s prospects for coming seasons.
Geiger, Whylly and Craig all had ample opportunities to topple the Crimson, and defender Matt Perille ’08 made his Yale debut in the season finale.
The Elis were unable to best the tough Cantabs, who have the ninth-best offense in the nation and may receive an at-large bid to the NCAA College Cup.
The defeat was disappointing, but the overall development this season has been important for the squad’s future, Tompkins said.
“It’s important to keep the game in perspective,” he said. “They were able to expose our weaknesses. But we’re young, enthusiastic and now experienced, and we’ll try to roll this into preparation for next season. I believe in this group.”