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Men’s Soccer Clinches Above .500 Season for First Time Since 2016

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Harvard survived a late surge by Columbia to hold on for a 3-2 victory in New York City on Saturday night in its last away match of the season.

Harvard (7-5-3, 2-2-2 Ivy) clinched its first season above .500 since 2016 with Saturday’s away win over Columbia (1-10-4, 0-4-2 Ivy). After going up 3-0, the Crimson conceded two late goals but was able to hold on for its third victory in its last four games.

“We certainly should have avoided conceding two goals in the last ten minutes of the game, but staying calm and trusting in our ability to play helped us get past that and secure the three points on Saturday night,” said first-year defender Ludovico Rollo of the match. “We played quite well for almost the entirety of the game, but when hiccups will happen — and they will definitely happen — we just have to make sure that we minimize them by trusting in ourselves and our teammates to get tackles in and play some beautiful footy.”

Rollo was one of four first-years to start for Harvard in a very young lineup, along with fellow defender Jan Riecke, midfielder Sam Bjarnason, and forward Alessandro Arlotti. Arlotti and Riecke have been essential for the Crimson this season, with the former leading the team in points and the latter playing nearly every minute of the season at center back. Rollo and Bjarnason have featured heavily as the season has progressed as well.

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Harvard was carried to victory by goals from its top three points earners on the season. Junior forward Martin Vician opened the scoring for the Crimson in the 26th minute after Arlotti found him with a ball over the top, which he finished with his first touch past the onrushing keeper. The goal was the Bratislava, Slovakia, native’s sixth of the season and his fourth in Ivy League play.

Harvard outshot Columbia 18 to seven on the night, with 10 on target to the Lions’ four. Columbia received two yellow cards compared to one for the Crimson, handed out to senior forward Alfred Perez in the 89th minute.

Sophomore midfielder Willem Ebbinge doubled Harvard’s lead in the 67th minute following a clever interchange between him and Vician. Vician held up a long ball between two defenders before finding Ebbinge on the overlap with a no-look pass. Ebbinge picked up the ball and cut inside near the corner of the box, dancing through three defenders and curling the ball into the far bottom corner.

The goal brings Ebbinge up to thirteen points on the year with two goals and nine assists; these nine assists in fourteen games put him fifth in the NCAA in assists per game (0.64). Vician’s assist brought him to three points on the night, with his strong performance netting him Ivy League player of the week.

The game seemed to be all but wrapped up when Arlotti netted the Crimson’s third goal in the 81st minute. Senior defender Havard Hjermstad whipped in an early cross from midway through the Columbia half, with Arlotti rising highest at the back post to head the ball home and extend Harvard’s lead to 3-0. The goal was Arlotti’s eighth on the season, bringing him to a team-best 22 points on the year.

The Lions came alive following this third goal, finding the back of the net just moments after conceding. After a cross was chested down in the Harvard box, junior goalkeeper Oskar Nilsson was beaten by a strong strike from the edge of the box to bring the score to 3-1 in the 82nd minute. Nilsson ranks thirteenth in the NCAA in saves per game, averaging five saves per 90 minutes played.

Columbia grabbed its second goal in the 87th minute after a ball over the top was smashed home into the roof of the net to put the game within one. Despite this late surge, the Crimson held on in a nervy final three minutes to secure its first winning season since 2016.

“When we have that much quality throughout the team roster, we have the ability to overpower teams for a full 90 minutes,” Rollo said of the team’s depth. “This game isn't a perfect example of that, due to the two goals conceded at the end, [but] we have gotten more and more consistent in full games throughout the course of the season, and we'll only look to improve this over the future.”

A guaranteed .500 finish is a massive improvement for a team that finished 0-14-1 last time out in 2019 and finished with only two and three wins in 2017 and 2018 respectively. This improvement speaks to the impact of coach Josh Shapiro in his first season, who won four NCAA DIII National Championships in ten years as head coach of Tufts. With time and more of his own recruits, Shapiro seems poised to lead the program into a bright future.

Harvard will wrap up its season at home versus Penn with senior day this Saturday on Jordan Field, with kickoff slated for 1 p.m. Both teams enter the matchup at 7-5-3, while the Crimson has the edge in Ivy League play, at 2-2-2 compared to 1-3-2 for Penn. Harvard sits in fourth in a talented Ivy League, behind a third-place Cornell who was nationally ranked for the majority of the season, and can retain that position with a win versus the Quakers.

— Staff writer Eamon J. McLoughlin can be reached at eamon.mcloughlin@thecrimson.com.

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