After snapping its three-game losing streak last weekend, the Yale men’s soccer team will open Ivy League play against Harvard this Saturday.
The Bulldogs (3–4–0, 0–0–0 Ivy) finally return to Reese Stadium this weekend, after hitting the road for the past three weeks. After last week’s 1–0 shutout victory against Saint Joseph’s (2–5–2, 0–0–0 Atlantic 10), Yale will look to use its momentum to defeat Harvard (1–5–1, 0–0–0), a team that is looking to get back on track after losing three matches in a row.
“Harvard was the best team in the Ivy League last year and they are our biggest traditional rival,” head coach Kylie Stannard said. “That, along with being the first conference game of the year, always makes this a special matchup and we don’t need any extra motivation when we play them.”
Last year, the Harvard-Yale game was played on the Crimson’s Jordan Field, where the bitter rivals battled into double overtime without any separation between the two in a 3–3 tie. Yale scored the first two goals, only to watch the Crimson net three in response. The Elis rallied and pushed back with a goal in the final five minutes to push the game into overtime. Despite the close result of the opening Ivy League game, Harvard went on to dominate the league last year finishing 10–3–2 overall and 4–0–1 in Ancient Eight play.
However, the Crimson was prevented from finishing out its campaign, after the revelation of a “scouting report” of first years on the women’s team that included sexually explicit descriptions and nicknames. The resulting fallout resulted in the cancellation of its season and scuppered its chances to win its first Ivy title since 2009.
By comparison, Yale’s 3–10–3 overall record and 1–4–2 mark in league play represented a program trying to find its feet after years of futility and just four Ivy wins in the past five years.
However, this year has been a different story. Only seven games into the 16-game season, Yale has already matched its win total from last year.
“Ahead of Harvard, there are still a number of things we can improve upon,” forward John Leisman ’20 said. “Our possession play after taking the lead needs work and would allow us to manage the game much more comfortably. We would also like to capitalize on more chances throughout the game to relieve some pressure as the game persists.”
The Crimson has struggled to hit the heights of last season, slumping to a 1–5–1 overall mark, with a number of heavy shutout losses, including 3–0 defeats to Xavier and UMass-Lowell. Defensively, Harvard has failed to stop any of its opponents, conceding goals in every game.
Harvard has struggled just as much to find the net offensively, scoring only four goals in seven games. No player has managed to score more than one goal or provide more than one assist. However, freshman midfielder Paolo Belloni-Urso has emerged as the centerpiece of the Crimson offense, taking 18 of the team’s 67 shots. No other player on the roster has a double-digit shot total. The Florida native has also proven clutch in late-game situations, scoring the game-winning goal in the 84th minute to lift Harvard over Providence for its only win of the season.
Yale returns eight starters from last year, including starting forwards Kyle Kenagy ’19 and Leisman, both of whom scored in the Harvard game last season and are the team’s leading scorers this year with two apiece. With that veteran experience, the Elis have enjoyed improved performances so far this season, including a battling display against two-time defending national champions Stanford where they acquitted themselves well in a 3–1 defeat.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have shown tremendous improvement this season. After keeping two clean sheets total in the last two years, the team has blanked the opposition three times already in this campaign. Goalkeeper Kees Schipper ’19 has marshalled a defense that will look to add to its resume with another stifling performance against the punchless Crimson attack.
According to Stannard, last week’s victory against Saint Joseph’s could have been a bit more decisive. The Elis couldn’t capitalize on multiple goalscoring opportunities that could have put the Hawks away in the first half. However, the team is aware of the aspects of its game that need refinement, and the players have been working on them all week.
“The fact that we were able to maintain a shutout against St. Joe’s gives us a lot of confidence going into the Harvard game, but we need to find a way to put more goals in the back of the net,” Kenagy said.
Saturday marks the first Ivy game for both teams and the outcome will set the tone for the league campaign to come. The two teams have played one mutual opponent, Vermont, and the Catamounts won both games in shutouts, beating Harvard 2–0 and Yale 1–0.
The game kicks off at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
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