DURHAM, N.H — The No. 6 University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s soccer team (10-0-0, 2-0-0) secured another dominant victory Tuesday night over the Harvard Crimson (3-3-1, 0-0-0). At least, that’s what the box score says. The home side won 3-1 and outshot Harvard 14-8. The ‘Cats had seven shots on target to the Crimson’s five. Harvard never won a corner while UNH won four. But beyond the stat sheet, UNH presented in a way they haven’t all season, especially at home: vulnerable.
The game was far closer than the numbers say. UNH’s attack was up to the task. The Wildcats have scored three or more goals in their last three games after failing to do so in their first seven. But the defense was downright sloppy at times. Harvard broke through on several occasions, and only the Crimson’s inability to finish clear chances kept the Wildcats in front.
Things began according to plan for UNH. Senior striker Tola Showunmi found the back of the net for the seventh time this season in the eighth minute. The move started with a through ball from graduate student Linus Fallberg to graduate student Johann von Knebel at the edge of the box. Von Knebel shot a low cross to Showunmi, who tapped it in at the far post. The goal continues the Englishman’s hot streak.
UNH was in control of the game early. The goal should have eased the pressure on the Wildcats, who had controlled possession in the opening minutes. Instead, the goal lulled the ‘Cats and Harvard caught them napping. A lightning-quick attack and some crisp passing in the box set up Harvard’s senior midfielder Cornelius Bencsik, who lashed home the equalizer at the near post.
It was an uncharacteristic goal for UNH to concede, especially in Wildcat Stadium. The usually overpowering Wildcat defense sat back and let the Crimson come to them. Harvard was clinical and looked laser-focused on equalizing. Had the Crimson maintained this coolness in front of goal, the night may have ended far differently.
Head coach Marc Hubbard was frank in his assessment of the goal and noted the game felt choppy throughout.
“The first time they brought it into our end they scored,” said Hubbard. “It wasn’t a great overall night for us in terms of defending in our defensive third. I don’t know if that’s mainly because we’ve had the ball so much or we just haven’t been faced with that type of attack recently.”
Following the shocking goal that leveled the score, UNH regained their earlier ferocity. Chances abounded, and another goal for UNH felt inevitable. The momentum soon turned to results as von Knebel squirmed through the Harvard defense and crossed the ball back across the face of goal. The cutback was squared up perfectly for graduate student Jacob Gould who made the delayed run into the box. The veteran attacker made no mistake and thrashed home his second goal in as many games to retake the lead for UNH.
From there, the game broke wide-open. The display from both teams can only be described as sloppy. Harvard looked bewildered by the attacking runs from UNH, who swarmed the Ivy Leaguers like a pack of jackals. Shots and crosses rained in, but the defiant efforts of junior goalkeeper Oskar Nilsson kept UNH’s lead to one.
On the other end of the pitch, the ‘Cats defense continued to look vulnerable. Had Harvard not stumbled and bumbled over themselves while in front of goal, the UNH lead could have been squandered once more.
Harvard looked like the more likely side to score in the first 25 minutes of the second half. Within one goal of the sixth-ranked Wildcats, Harvard pressed UNH and created chance after chance. The press also looked like an effective tool to hold off the ‘Cats formidable offense.
Unfortunately for Harvard, they never found their finishing boots after their first goal. The visitors rarely even tested junior goalkeeper Jassem Koleilat, with most of their efforts rocketing over the bar or trickling wide of the post. Some of the most threatening moves ended in no shots at all. Several Harvard attack’s fizzled due to whiffs and missed kicks.
The failure to seize any of the opportunities eventually came back to bite Harvard. Graduate student Paul Mayer got back to his goal-scoring ways after pursuing a long arcing ball into the Harvard box. Mayer pounced on the chance and beat out Harvard’s keeper, who failed to snatch the ball away from Mayer’s head. He deftly brought the ball down and was around the keeper in a flash. He made no mistake and slotted the ball into an empty net to make the score 3-1.
The third goal killed off Harvard’s hope of a comeback. The thoughts of their missed chances were no doubt echoing in their heads on the bus ride home.
The win counts just the same as the others for UNH. The Wildcats issues have champagne problems most programs would die for, but the defensive performance could have some worried about how far the sixth-ranked team in the country can go when they face a top-tier opposition.
Hubbard was not overly harsh on his team and their performance. He pointed out the gauntlet of games the Wildcats have endured, often playing games with only three to four days rest in-between. The ‘Cats will finish out their season with a slate of conference games and a matchup versus Yale. They take on NJIT (2-5-1, 0-1-1) Friday at 7 p.m. The Highlanders likely won’t be the test this team needs, but UNH will get eight days off after Friday’s matchup.
Hubbard said the team is looking forward to the down time.
“I think we can get some rest and work on some things that we haven’t been able to just because of the next game coming up,” said Hubbard. “So, a little bit of rest but also a chance to tighten the screws.”
Following the break UNH will take on Vermont (5-3-1, 0-1-0) on Oct. 16 for a rematch of this past spring’s America East Championship and a true test of this Wildcats team.
Photo courtesy of China Wong