November 16, 2007

Red Hits Road for Finale

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Berman Field has been good to the men’s soccer team of late, but the Red will hope to take some of that magic on the road this weekend for the season finale against Penn.
After winning its last two homestands, Cornell (7-8-1, 1-4-1 Ivy) will face the Quakers (5-9-2, 2-4) in Philadelphia tomorrow night with a .500 record for the Red on the line.
“You build up momentum, and it carries you,” said senior tri-captain Aaron Vieira. “It’s like early in the season, we had the momentum and we lost and we caught a bad streak where things weren’t going our way. Regardless, you’ve got to put that behind you and you’ve got to keep fighting and we want to finish this season as strong as possible, and now we feel like we have some momentum going. We want to finish with one more win against Penn [this] weekend and now get ourselves up to .500 and get the most wins this program’s had in a lot of years.”
On paper, the men’s soccer teams at Cornell and Penn have much more in common than an association with ivy. Both teams took Penn St. to double overtime in State College, Pa., but eventually fell. Penn lost by a score of 3-2 and Cornell dropped a 2-1 decision. Both teams also defeated Columbia by a score of 3-2.
The main difference between the two programs, however, is that Penn got a win out of its double-overtime outing with Yale, while the Red could only muster a tie after two extra periods. One off in the conference win column, it is a difference that the Red is intent on eliminating.
“We’ve won our last two games,” said sophomore Brian Donovan. “Over the last two or three weeks, I think you can definitely see an increase in confidence. Where we may have lost that at some point during the season, I think we definitely have it back right now and that’s definitely evident in practice. Things are clicking a lot more. We have some level of intent which is really good going into our last game.”
While the Red won its last two games in dramatic fashion — with senior Brian Kuritzky scoring off a free kick with six seconds left in overtime against Columbia on Saturday — the Quakers are coming off a three-game losing streak, including matches against nationally ranked Brown and Harvard.
The question is now whether Penn will have enough energy left to stop a Cornell team reinvigorated by recent successes and by strong support for the seniors.
“We’ve definitely been more focused [in practice this week],” Donovan said. “It’s finally sunk in, especially after that last goal by Brian [Kuritzky]. This is the last hurrah for the seniors, and we all want to do it for them. I think that our senior class is [a group of] great leaders. When we have our last game of the year, we’ll be trying hard not just for us but especially for them, because we know they’ve worked hard for us, and we want to give something back.”
“The more we get Brian Kuritzky and [sophomore forward] Matt Bouraee the ball, the better we’re going to do, in a sentence,” Donovan added.
Kuritzky and Bouraee lead the Red with eight goals apiece. Bouraee has also tallied four assists and Kuritzky has two.
Though Penn has no standout goal-scorer like Kuritzky and Bouraee or Harvard’s Andre Akpan, the team is a threat as a whole. Three Quakers are tied at 10 points, and nine players have scored at least once. According to head coach Bryan Scales, however, Penn’s veteran defense will be an important factor in the season-ending Ancient Eight matchup tomorrow.
“[The Penn defense has] been playing together for awhile now. They’re an experienced group of guys, and that back four I think is one of the best back fours in the league,” he said. “Both teams are out of the hunt for an Ivy League championship, and it’s just a matter of who is able to make those one or two plays that will get the result in the game.”
The Red will draw from the entire roster in its last game of the season, from four-year starters to players such as freshman goalkeeper Scott Brody, who notched his first two collegiate wins in his first two starts last week against Hartwick and Columbia. The seniors, however, are the driving force behind Cornell’s final push.
“This week we’ve had a couple very good practices,” Scales said. “They’ve been spirited. They’ve been pretty sharp, and it helps that the weather’s been decent so we’ve been able to get some good games going out there on the training field. The seniors are obviously all out there, and they’re soaking up every last minute of training, including all the fitness and the running, as much as they don’t like it. They know that this is their last couple of days.”