October 6, 2006

M. Soccer Off to Harvard

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Cornell and Harvard — the rivalry is always intense. And this year’s matchup between the two men’s soccer teams couldn’t be any more fitting, as the teams come into the contest playing like polar opposites.

On one hand, the Red (1-4-3, 0-1-1 Ivy) has struggled against Ivy League competition, going winless in two games and being shut out both times. Most recently, the Red lost to Penn, 1-0, last Saturday evening.

Stingy defense has kept the Red in both its league games this season, as the team has conceded a league-best one goal over its two games.

“They’ve done a terrific job,” said head coach Brian Scales. “They have done everything we’ve asked of them. They’ve kept us in every single game. Now it’s time for some of our front players and midfield guys to step up and get some goals out of it. So, this is what we hope is going to happen over the next few weeks and we feel very confident and positive that it will happen.”[img_assist|nid=18821|title=Stepping up|desc=Sophomore Kevin Vieira (25) races to a ball in the backfield during Cornell’s 1-0 loss to Penn last Saturday at Berman Field. (Kuan-Wei Chen / Sun Staff)|link=popup|align=right|width=90|height=100]

Cornell has had little success finding the back of the net thus far this season, having scored only five goals in eight contests and never scoring more than one goal in a game. The Red also has not won since Sept. 10, in a 1-0 win over New Hampshire.

“We’ve been doing the same stuff that we usually do in that we’re trying to get connections up top, trying to get chances, taking care of restarts,” Scales said. “You know, [Wednesday] was not a great day to train, but we’ve been very pleased with the way the back four and the goalkeeper have been playing, and now we just have to finish off some chances because we’re getting chances. We just have to finish them off.”

On the other side of the playing field, Harvard (6-4-1, 1-1-0) has been torching the back of the net and has found wins easier to come by.

The Crimson has scored 22 goals in 10 games this season, including four in league play — the second-best total in the league — and defeated Yale, 3-2, last weekend. Harvard made two comebacks in that game before taking the lead for good on a 54th minute goal by rookie sensation Andre Akpan.

Like the Red’s offense, though, the Crimson’s defense has been below par. The team has allowed 16 goals on the year, including a league-worst five goals against Ivy rivals.

Harvard’s offense is led by a Akpan (18 points, six goals), and its senior captain and reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, Charles Altchek (13 points, five goals). The two forwards are the top-2 points and goals tallymen in the Ivy League, with Akpan also leading the league in assists.

Michael Fucito, Matt Hoff and John Stamatis lead a dangerous midfield that Scales believes could cause problems for the Red’s defense.

“They’re very talented,” Scales said. “We expect them to be dangerous going forward and be a really good challenge for our back four and our goalkeeper.”

The Red’s defense, lead by sophomore goalkeeper Luca Cerretani, has looked capable of handling the challenge. Cerretani has a stellar 0.76 goals against average on the season and a 82.8 save percentage, the second-best average among the Ivies. His two shutouts are also the fourth-best total in the league.

“We play defense with 11 guys,” Scales said. “It starts with our forwards, and everyone has different responsibilities within our defensive framework. It’s something that every player on our team has drilled into their head — that it’s important.”

Cornell received a boost last week from the return of midfield stalwart, senior Brian Scruton.

“He’s coming along. He’s not 90-minutes fit yet, but he’s making progress,” Scales said. “We need him.”