In the Crimson’s opening game against Stanford, men’s soccer coach Carl Junot noticed a sign of the times: packed bleachers.
Junot, the Virginia B. and James O. Welch ’52 Head Coach, is excited about the Crimson’s season on the heels of the hotly watched FIFA World Cup.
“Our game against Stanford was the biggest-attended game in six or seven years here at Harvard,” said Junot. “Any time there’s a World Cup year people are much more excited about soccer. Across the country, there’s been a lot more people attending soccer games.”
Adding to Harvard soccer’s sudden momentum is last month’s unveiling of the Soldiers Field Soccer Stadium in Allston.
“It’s a new environment for fans to come watch the game. And you can play under the lights, which we’ve never had here before,” Junot said. “When you get a great audience and people are really into the game, there’s nothing that lifts the team to play better.”
But Junot, a native of San Antonio who started playing soccer when he was 6, nearly left Harvard for good this year.
From 2008 to 2010, he served as an assistant under head coach Jamie Clark. Recruited to coach at Tufts University, Junot announced his leave in April and then, suddenly, his return to Harvard in July. Clark had accepted a coaching position at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.
“Thirteen weeks after I left, I got a phone call from Harvard’s administration asking if I was interested in coming back,” said Junot.
He accepted the position, noting that the most difficult aspect of returning to Harvard was breaking the news to the Tufts team. “We had already started building expectations,” Junot said. “But Harvard’s resources allow you to create one of the best student-athlete experiences in the country.”
In mid-September the Crimson traveled to the University of New Mexico — a familiar setting for Junot, an assistant at UNM for six years — to play in the Lobo Classic. It was the first time in seven years that the Crimson played a school not on the East Coast.
“Coach Clark had organized the New Mexico trip,” said Junot. The Crimson played against UNM and University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) — two teams that have been in the national championship games in the past six years, said Junot.
“Our goal was to go in there and compete and get results, and learn by playing against the best teams and to grow as a team by competition,” he said.
“The trip is also pretty unique because Albuquerque is completely different from Cambridge. As always, I hoped that the players experienced something new as a culture and were exposed to something they might not otherwise be able to do.”
The Crimson fell to UCSB, and against UNM both teams failed to score in double overtime. Forward Zack Wolfenzon ’13 and forward/midfielder Alex Chi ’11 blogged from the road about their trip, which included some unexpected excitement — because of overtime, the team missed their flight home.
On Sept. 24, the Crimson tied Stony Brook University 1-1 in double overtime. The squad suffered losses to Boston University on Sept. 26 and Providence College on Sept. 29, and won 1-0 against Yale University on Oct. 2.
“I think potentially our greatest challenge is to create more offensive production,” Junot said. “But we have returned some very good attacking players — Brian Rogers ’13, Jamie Rees ’12, Scott Prozeller ’13, Zack Wolfenzon ’13, and we’ve added some very talented freshmen like Connor McCarthy ’14 and Kyle Henderson ’14. So once some of our younger players blossom and grow with confidence, they’ll start filling the role of being our special goal-scoring players.”
The first objective for any Harvard team is to compete for the Ivy League Championship, Junot added.
“This year, we’ve got a greater work ethic, we’re very organized. . . . We have a complete understanding of how we want to play.”