Photo courtesy: Harvard Athletic Communications
Harvard repeated a unique feat this fall, as the Crimson men and women’s soccer teams each claimed the Ancient Eight crown, marking the first conference sweep for the Crimson in soccer since 1996. This rare achievement has only been accomplished four times prior to this season by Brown in 1994, Harvard in 1996, Princeton in 2001 and Yale in 2005.
The Crimson, who advanced to the round of 32 last season, opened the 2009 campaign winning six straight contests, including victories over local rivals Boston College and Boston University. The Crimson, which reached as high as No. 6 in the national polls this fall, tying the program’s highest ever ranking, was one of five unbeaten teams in the nation heading into a key non-conference matchup at No. 3 Wake Forest Sept. 26. The Crimson and Demon Deacons played a defensive battle, but Harvard came out on the wrong side of a 1-0 loss. However, the team’s goals remained in front of them entering its Ivy slate.
Harvard visited archrival Yale Oct. 3, and after nearly 103 minutes of scoreless action, rookie Brian Rogers lifted the Crimson to a sudden victory, netting the game-winner in Harvard’s 1-0 win. The Crimson moved to 8-1 overall after topping Holy Cross, 2-0, Oct .7, and then made a trip to Ithaca, N.Y., to face Cornell three days later. The Big Red got on the scoreboard early and held on to a 1-0 lead until 76:28, when Alex Chi finished a cross pass from teammate Adam Rousmaniere, helping Harvard earn a 1-1 tie. Picking up one point at Cornell would prove dividends later in the season, especially after the Crimson edged No. 15 Brown, 1-0, at Ohiri Field Oct. 17, as Harvard remained in contention in the Ancient Eight with a 2-0-1 conference record.
After an overtime loss to Princeton, Harvard rebounded in a must-win game against No. 21 Dartmouth Oct. 31. Standout defender Kwaku Nyamekye tallied one of the biggest goals of the season at the 4:42 mark, finishing off a volley to give Harvard a 1-0 lead. After the Big Green tied the game in the 56th minute, Brian Grimm made a clean pass to Andre Akpan, who dribbled the end line before fitting a shot into the right side of the netting at 62:43. The Crimson went on to win the game, 2-1, and moved into first place with a 3-1-1 mark.
Harvard concluded the road portion of its Ivy League schedule at Columbia Nov. 7, as Harvard owned a slim, one-point lead over Brown and Dartmouth in the Ancient Eight standings. The Crimson once again came out on the right end of a close contest, as Chi notched the game-winning goal in the fifth minute of overtime, enabling Harvard to keep pace with the Bears and Big Green. In the final game of the regular season against Penn Nov. 15, Harvard broke through at 67:26, as Tim Linden placed a cross pass to freshman defender Richard Smith, who kicked the ball into the goal for the first tally of his career. Smith’s goal stood up for the game-winner in Harvard’s 1-0 win, as the Crimson clinched the Ivy championship on home turf, finishing the regular season with a 5-1-1 conference record.
“We dedicated ourselves to winning the league and making the tournament again this season,” said Jamie Clark, The Virginia B. and James O. Welch, Jr. ’52 Head Coach for Harvard Men’s Soccer. “ For the seniors, who won the title as freshmen, their experience helped get us through very close games this fall.”
Harvard earned the No. 10 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, allowing the Crimson to earn a bye. In turn, Harvard hosted Monmouth in a second-round matchup Nov. 22. The Hawks entered the game with the nation’s second best scoring defense, but Harvard struck three times, as Smith, Akpan and Rousmaniere each netted goals in a 3-0 Harvard victory. Akpan’s goal tied the senior co-captain for first on Harvard’s career goals list with Chris Ohiri ’64 with 47 tallies. Akpan already owned Harvard’s record for points with 127 and assists with 33. The win over Monmouth advanced the Crimson to the third round of the tournament, the furthest the program has advanced since reaching the semifinals in 1987. The Crimson fell to Maryland, the defending national champion, 2-0, in the Sweet 16, but the defeat could not take away from the success of the program this fall.
Several members of the men's were rewarded for their significant effort this season, both on and off the field, with a variety season-ending awards.
Akpan, an Academic All-Ivy League choice, and Rogers were honored as the Ivy League Player and Rookie of the Year, respectively, as Akpan joined Nyamekye as unanimous selections to the All-Ivy first team. With his late season heroics, Smith earned a spot on the all-conference second team, joining Brian Grimm and Rogers on the squad. Chi rounded out the Harvard selections, garnering honorable mention. Akpan was also tabbed to the NSCAA All-America first team and became the first Harvard player to be named a finalist for the Missouri Athletic Club's Hermann Trophy. Akpan, Nyamekye and Rogers also each earned sports on the NSCAA All-Northeast Region team.