October 11, 2006

M. Soccer Falls Again

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Striker Thierry Henry — Arsenal’s all-time leading scorer and is widely regarded as one of the best players in the world — once said, “sometimes in football you have to score goals.”

The men’s soccer team would be wise to heed his advice as it once again failed to find the back of the net this past Saturday, coming out on the wrong side of a 1-0, double-overtime dogfight with Harvard (7-4, 2-1 Ivy) and extending the team’s scoreless drought to three games.

“I thought we played pretty well overall,” said head coach Bryan Scales. “We had some good offensive chances and were much better on the ball than in games past; it is just a matter of finishing them.”

The Red (1-5-3, 0-2-1 Ivy) kept a Harvard offense which has averaged over two goals a game this season off the scoreboard for the first 90 minutes of regulation, but finally succumbed to its relentless pressure in the 104th minute of the match.

Deep into the second overtime, Crimson sophomore Michael Fucito lofted a soaring pass to senior co-captain Charles Altcheck, who jumped between two Cornell defenders and deposited the ball past sophomore goalkeeper Luca Cerretani with a well-positioned header. With his goal, Altcheck added yet another accolade to his sparkling collegiate resume, one that already includes an Ivy League Player of the Year award last season.

Despite all of the Red’s recent offensive struggles, it did have a number of chances to pull ahead. Most notably, the Red thought it had struck first with a goal only two minutes into the match from freshman forward Matt Bouraee. However the call was reversed due what Scales said was a “dubious offside call.”

After staying quiet for most of the first half, Cornell’s best opportunity to score came in the 74th minute when Bouraee again blasted a close-range shot on goal, only to be deflected by Harvard’s junior goalkeeper Adam Hahn.

The Cornell booters’ defensive effort, which was described by Harvard head coach John Kerr as “spectacular,” was all the more impressive considering the fact that the Red played one man down for the final 20 minutes. This was due to the sending-off of senior co-captain Tom Marks, who was ejected after being issued a red card by the officials with just over seven minutes left in regulation.

“The tide of the game certainly changed after that ejection,” Scales said. “Anytime you are playing with a man down, you not only have to cover more space with less players but it allows the opposing team to play an extra man forward.”

As has been a common theme for Cornell of late, sophomore goalkeeper Luca Cerretani single-handedly kept his squad in the game, robbing the Crimson of several goals with dazzling saves over the course of the evening.

“Luca was obviously terrific,” Scales said. “He continues to make big saves for us when we need him to. In this game he stuffed a breakaway shot in the first half and a point-blank header in the second — among others.”

The Red was also aided by some well-timed luck, because with just over two minutes left in regulation Harvard freshman forward Andre Akpan — who is the team’s leading scorer — drilled a shot which caromed off the crossbar to preserve the tie.

The men could only dodge so many bullets, however, as eventually one of Harvard’s 16 shots found the net to send Cornell home disappointed. On offense the Red was paced by Bouraee, who compiled four of the team’s 11 shots during the match. Of these 11 shots, only three were directly on goal. Scales said he feels that it is just a matter of time before these shots starts making their way to the back of the net.

“I think part of it is just confidence in front of the goal,” Scales said. “We can only work on it so much in practice, at some point it has to translate into the game. It’s kind of like a hitting slump in baseball — once we get one or two, I think they will come much easier.”

Cornell will look to get back on track against rival Yale (4-7-1, 1-2 Ivy) on Friday, which currently leads the Red by one game in the Ivy League standings.

“This was a real gut-wrenching loss,” Scales said. “But we have to put it out of our minds and keep taking the season one game at a time.”