Yale’s offensive left its own defense on its heels for 90 minutes in the men’s soccer team’s 1-0 loss at Harvard on Saturday.

“They’re a good counter-attacking team,” Yale head coach Brian Tompkins repeated again and again about Harvard (4-3-0, 1-0 Ivy) after Saturday’s loss in Cambridge, Mass.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”11886″ ]

The visiting Yale squad (4-4-1, 0-1), fresh off a victory at Army (1-8) the Wednesday before, could not contend with the potent Harvard counterattack and allowed one “scrappy” goal, as Tompkins put it, falling to nemesis Harvard. The most striking number to come out of the game, however, is the 18 more shots the Crimson offense took — but the 25-7 statistic hardly tells the whole story.

As is true of most Harvard-Yale matchups, the men’s soccer version has a long history. But the last time the Bulldogs stole the show from their northern counterparts was in 2005, when the members of this year’s senior class were rookies. Last year’s 4-0 loss in the shadow of the Bowl on the day of The Game didn’t help much, either.

“I think it [was] a game that’s hard to forget,” captain and defender Alex Guzinski ’09 said about the resounding loss in 2007. “We had almost a year to think about what kind of tone was left on our team following that game. Since that game, everyone has wanted revenge, and we came into [this year’s] game a little bit nervous, and I think that showed at times.”

Saturday’s contest began with Yale facing a typical Ivy League attack, as Harvard launched long balls over the heads of the Eli defenders. The Bulldogs responded by pushing through the midfield and hanging with the Crimson, and at the half the shot difference was only 9-4 in favor of Harvard.

But the Bulldogs soon saw a change of pace when the Crimson began a counter-attacking strategy that kept the Elis off the scoreboard for good. The Cantabs’ physical defenders kept up heightened pressure on the Yale front line and allowed the forwards little space to maneuver or connect passes.

“We had to keep the ball in the attacking third better and make them defend more than one pass at a time,” Tompkins said.

Yet players said their own mistakes trying to keep possession and maintain accuracy were the most costly.

“We fed the monster a little bit by giving the ball away very easily in their half,” Guzinski said. “We were going for the million-dollar pass, and it just wouldn’t work. We were missing our opportunities, and that’s partly what made the game so difficult.”

The Bulldogs’ speedy and usually creative offense were hampered by their own mistakes and a slew of strong Crimson defenders, anchored by an effective freshman keeper, Austin Harms.

But on Yale’s end, goalkeeper Travis Chulick ’10 racked up six saves and looked unbeatable while under the constant pressure of Harvard’s offensive effort. Harvard’s fast forwards repeatedly knocked the ball around in front of the net, prompting a standout effort by Yale’s four-man defense and from Chulick, who consistently kicked, punched and smothered the Crimson’s scoring attempts.

“He was the man of the match for us,” Tompkins said. “This was his best game at Yale. He was responsible for the score not being any worse.”

“It’s great as a defender knowing your goalie will bail you out,” Guzinski added. “It gives you the ability to take more risks knowing that behind you is a really capable goalie.”

All of Yale’s defensive efforts, though, could not stop a fluke free kick from ricocheting its way through a wall of Bulldogs before Harvard forward Kwaku Nyamekye collected it and put the Cantabs up 1-0.

“Once they got that goal, they just sort of sat in and looked to counter with a couple of fast forwards,” midfielder Jordan Raybould ’10 said.

The home team then kept most of its 11 men back on defense to deflect any of the Bulldogs’ attempts to push forward, allowing them to better take advantage of Yale turnovers and counterattack with their two to four players up top.