Harvard fell to Ivy League leaders Princeton at home on Saturday evening by a score of 4-1. After a steady first-half performance from the Crimson, the Tigers came alive in the second half, scoring three goals in eight minutes to earn the victory.
After battling for the opening 50 minutes and controlling the majority of that period, Harvard (5-5-3, 0-2-2, Ivy) crumbled in the second half versus Princeton (8-5, 4-0 Ivy) to suffer its heaviest defeat of the season. The Crimson is still looking for its first Ivy League victory of the 2021 campaign despite at times dominating the top three teams of the Ancient Eight.
“I thought we created a lot of wonderful opportunities in the first half,” said coach Josh Shapiro of the match. “We have the ability to play really good soccer, and you have to earn that by doing that work defensively, doing that gritty battling work, and that is coming and going for us.”
The Tigers came into the matchup boasting the best defensive record in the Ivy League, conceding an even twelve goals through twelve games, while the Crimson entered the matchup with the third-best offense in the Ancient Eight, averaging 1.83 goals per game.
Harvard lived up to this high offensive standard early on in the match, creating chance after chance in the opening twenty minutes but failing to convert for the opening goal. The best of these chances came in the 20th minute when first-year forward Alessandro Arlotti found himself in acres of space in front of the Princeton goal, but the Monaco native struck wide.
The Tigers settled into the game after Arlotti’s chance, instantly hitting back and nearly scoring just a minute later. Sophomore defender Nik White lost his footing while running down Princeton’s striker in the 21st minute and landed on the ball, inadvertently handling the ball, which then fell to the striker, who then struck wide.
The Tigers’ bench erupted with protests, calling for a red card for White, who was the Crimson’s last defender, but the referee was unconvinced, awarding only a yellow card and a free kick from the spot of the foul on the edge of the box, which was subsequently missed by Princeton. The chance marked the end of Harvard’s early dominance as the Tigers began to pressure the Crimson’s goal for the next quarter of an hour.
Harvard stayed resilient on defense under this pressure and was rewarded with a goal at the other end in the 38th minute. Senior midfielder Nico Garcia-Morillo created the chance with a strong slide tackle on Princeton’s right back, winning the ball and sliding it centrally to Arlotti. Arlotti could have taken the shot but smartly moved the ball wide to senior midfielder Cornelius Bencsik, who found himself in tons of space, finishing coolly into the far corner with a curling effort to put the Crimson up 1-0. The goal was Bencsik’s second in two games and his fourth on the season.
While the lead was deserved, it did not last long for Harvard, with the Tigers levelling under two minutes later. After just a few moments of play, Princeton won a corner and smashed in a header on the ensuing cross, levelling the game at 1-1 in the 40th minute.
After a hard-fought, back-and-forth first half, the second half was all Princeton, with the Tigers putting the game to bed in the first fifteen minutes of the second half. This was mostly due to the individual contribution of senior forward Kevin O’Toole, who scored nearly identical goals in the 53rd and 57th minutes, cutting in from the right wing to find space near the corner of the box and curling the ball into the far corner to beat junior goalkeeper Oskar Nilsson twice in under five minutes.
Princeton put the game beyond all doubt in the 61st minute when it was awarded a potentially controversial penalty kick after first-year defender Jan Riecke was penalized for a push on an attacker just inside the box. O’Toole stepped up and converted the kick to complete his eight-minute hat trick and seal the game.
“We have to get through some of these lapses that are there that are hurting us, but I'm so excited to fight for the rest of the season, to be as competitive as we can and make as much progress as we can as a team,” said Shapiro of the team’s remaining games.
Harvard now hosts Dartmouth this Saturday at Jordan Field, with kickoff set for 4 p.m.
— Staff writer Eamon McLoughlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.