The curtain finally closed on the season for the No. 10 Harvard men’s soccer team, which fell to the Maryland Terrapins on Sunday (Nov. 29) in the third round of the NCAA tournament, 2-0.
Unable to create offense, the Crimson gave up an early goal in the 11th minute, which was all the defending national champion Terrapins needed to win.
Despite seven shots on goal in the first half, the Crimson’s best opportunity to score came at the 33:03 mark, when senior forward and co-captain Andre Akpan was taken down in the penalty box by Maryland goalkeeper Zac MacMath. But Akpan, who going into Sunday’s contest was 2 for 3 on penalty kicks this season, couldn’t boot the ball past MacMath.
“It wasn’t a great [penalty kick], but he made a great save, and that’s how it goes sometimes,” said Akpan.
“We didn’t have to go into intermission up or even, but it certainly would have helped,” said Crimson head coach Jamie Clark, whose team owned a 7-3 shot advantage going into halftime. “It would have certainly changed the dynamic of the second half.”
For Maryland, the final dagger came in the 78th minute on a line-drive ball that rocketed past Harvard keeper Austin Harms ’12. The goal crushed any hope for a Crimson comeback.
“They played sensibly, they played well … they were opportunistic,” said Clark. “That allows them to move on.”
The loss ends the season for the Crimson (14-4-1; 5-1-1 Ivy League), though it was a memorable one. Spending most of the season ranked in the top 15 (peaking at No. 6), Harvard posted the program’s best record since 1996, taking home its first Ivy League title since 2006.
This season also saw Akpan add to his legacy as one of the greatest players the program has ever seen. With 12 goals this year, the senior, who entered the season already Harvard’s all-time leader in assists and points, finished his career tied with Chris Ohiri ’64 as Harvard’s all-time leading scorer with 47 goals, leaving an indelible mark on the program.
In addition to Akpan, the Crimson will graduate four other starters: Brian Grimm, Desmond Mitchell, Kwaku Nyamekye, and Adam Rousmaniere. The seniors — who reached the NCAA tournament in each of their four years — leave the program with high expectations for subsequent classes.
“It was a great season for us, and the hardest thing, with as talented a senior class as we had, is to have it end,” said Clark, who in just two seasons at Harvard has a 26-10-1 (10-3-1 Ivy League) record. “Only one team ends up happy … but it doesn’t take away from our team. We accomplished a ton and had a season to be proud of. These five guys had careers they’ll remember well.”
“This year we got tighter on the field. A lot of credit goes to coach Clark. People were aware of their roles, and it helped us make it this far,” said Nyamekye, who was named All-Ivy the past two seasons (first team in 2009, second team in 2008). “Though it’s pretty disappointing to lose in the third round, we’re happy that we’ve taken this program where it stands today.”
Grimm, a senior co-captain, added: “We set a new standard for the program. Getting to the tournament — while that’s an accomplishment — I don’t think that’s good enough anymore. From here on out, there’s going to be high expectations for the team, and it will be expected to be competing for an Ivy League championship every year.”