Harvard was just barely outclassed by one of the best offenses in the country on Saturday evening, as it fell 5-4 to No. 24 Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y. After conceding five goals in the first half, the Crimson nearly pulled off an unthinkable comeback by scoring four and dominating the second slate, but the resurgence proved to be too little, too late.
It was a tale of two halves for Harvard (4-4-2, 0-1-1 Ivy League), who was not able to match the pace set by Cornell (7-1-1, 2-0-0 Ivy) in the first half after the Big Red showed why it is the third-best offense in the country. Despite Harvard roaring back in the second 45, Cornell’s first-half dominance proved to be enough for it to limp over the finish line. With the loss, Harvard will likely need to win the rest of its Ivy League games and get some help from the rest of the division to catch Cornell at the top of the conference standings.
“Conceding five times in the manner that we did was disappointing, but, like anything, it’s how you respond,” said sophomore defender Nik White of the night. “We reflected as a group during halftime and almost secured one of the best comebacks I’ve ever been a part of or seen. I’m proud of the character we showed, but we ultimately never should have allowed it to get the point it did.”
Harvard started the game with some intensity, creating the first real chance of the game in the 13th minute through its talented first-year forward Alessandro Arlotti. Arlotti picked up the ball after it was knocked down by junior forward Martin Vician and drove into the Cornell box, forcing a last-ditch challenge from behind from Cornell’s last defender. The tackle got a lot of Arlotti before getting the ball, but the referee was not convinced, and play continued.
Cornell opened the scoring with its first real chance of the game just moments later in the 15th minute, after driving down the right side with numbers. The ensuing cross flew just over the head of first-year defender Jan Riecke, and the ball fell to an open Cornell striker who took a touch and volleyed home to make the score 1-0.
The floodgates began to open for Cornell following the first goal as the Big Red showed why its offense is one of the best in the country. In the 22nd minute, Cornell delivered a perfect cross from a free-kick midway through Harvard’s half, which was met with a powerful header into the opposite corner for 2-0.
Just moments later, Cornell won another free kick, this one coming just outside the box. It was taken by senior midfielder Tyler Bagley, who curled into the top corner with his weaker left foot for a 3-0 lead, leaving junior goalkeeper Oskar Nilsson no chance in goal.
While this third goal showed Cornell’s individual quality, its fifth could only be described as spectacular. Harvard left the back post unmarked on a corner in the 42nd minute, and Cornell’s junior defender Connor Drought took notice, curling the ball over everyone and into the opposite corner to score directly from the corner. At this point, Harvard looked like it might concede five more in the second half.
Coach Josh Shapiro’s halftime team talk must have been something special, as Harvard looked like a different side in the second half. It pulled a goal back in the 52nd minute and came close to grabbing a second multiple times in the following five minutes. Sophomore defender Nik White got up to challenge a well-delivered corner from sophomore midfielder Willem Ebbinge, but his header was blocked and fell to his feet, and he smashed the ball home to pull one back for Harvard.
“After a bad start, at halftime, we said that we can't give up,” Vician said of the turnaround. “No matter what the result is, we play for Harvard and we fight for Harvard.”
The Crimson grabbed a second goal in the 67th minute, after executing a near-perfect counterattack. Riecke went long from the Harvard box, and the two strikers reversed their usual roles, with Arlotti flicking the ball perfectly onto Vician, who found himself all alone in the Cornell side of the field. Vician surged forward and made no mistake, finishing the one-on-one smoothly to bring the game to 5-2 before grabbing the ball and bringing it back to the center circle.
Harvard scored again in the 80th minute after shots from senior forward Alfred Perez and Vician forced a quick double-save from the Cornell keeper. Sophomore forward Ale Gutierrez was waiting in the box as he picked the defender’s pocket on the rebound and fired home to give the Crimson the slightest chance at 5-3 with ten minutes to play.
In the 85th minute, Harvard brought the game within one score after a long throw-in was flicked on by Vician at the front post, with Arlotti rising highest in the middle to knock the ball home and bring the scoreline to 5-4 with five minutes to play.
Harvard nearly grabbed the elusive fifth goal just 45 seconds after scoring its fourth, as Perez found senior forward Nico Garcia-Morillo in space at the edge of the box. His shot sailed wide, and Cornell took advantage, spending the rest of the match holding the ball in the corner to run out the clock.
“This game again showed that we can compete with the elite — we have the talent and depth. It’s now a matter of looking ahead and finishing the season strong,” White said. “We have to give everything to secure as many wins from the final six games as possible.”
Harvard will now host Brown at home this Saturday, with kickoff coming at 7 p.m. on Jordan Field.
“The second half showed us that we can dominate even a team that is currently ranked 24th in the country,” said Vician of the second half. “Now, we have to continue and show the same spirit from the second half on Saturday against Brown.”
— Staff writer Eamon J. McLoughlin can be reached at email@example.com.