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M. soccer ready for rivalry game against Harvard Saturday

Friday, October 17, 2008

The men’s soccer team will host a tough Harvard squad on Saturday night at 7 p.m. The match will be significant not only because of the rivalry, but also because the game could determine who wins the Ivy League title. Both teams enter the contest tied for first place as the only undefeated teams left in the conference at 2-0.

The stage was set for a great game last season as well, when No. 14 Brown traveled to No. 7 Harvard. The Bears struck early with a Dylan Sheehan ’09 goal and led the majority of the way until the Crimson tied the score in the 82nd minute sending the game into overtime. Nick Elenz-Martin ’10 scored the game-winning goal in the 95th minute (3-2) to lead the Bears past their second straight top-10 opponent (No. 5 Boston College).

“Harvard will come in very confident,” said David Walls ’11. “I’m sure they’re bitter about the close loss last year. The stakes were very high. We spoiled their season and we’re expecting for them to try to do the same to us this year.”

The team is looking at this game as a huge step in the right direction toward an Ivy League title. Since any Ivy League loss can cost a team its shot at the championship, the next game on the schedule is always the most important. On Saturday, that game will be Harvard.

“Our mentality is very focused,” said Ian Smith ’11. “It speaks for itself – it’s a big game. Any Ivy League game has significance, but this game has more to it because of the rivalry.”

Smith is competing in the rivalry for the first time in his career. He transferred from Western Kentucky, where the program was cut at the beginning of February. He has played in many rivalry match-ups including big games against the University of Kentucky, but he is excited to participate in the rivalry with Harvard. The game will also feature a more personal rivalry for Smith, as he will be competing against fellow Arlington native Andre Akpan, whom he played against in high school.

“I’m privileged to be a part of the rivalry,” Smith said. “The intensity I’ve had from other rivalries is already there. This is what it’s all about: you live for these kinds of games.”

Harvard’s Andre Akpan and Michael Fucito are some of the best strikers in the college game. The Missouri Athletic Club has named both Crimson attackers to the Hermann Trophy Watch as two of the best players in Division I soccer. Rhett Bernstein ’09 can also find his name on that same list. He anchors a defense that has allowed only seven goals this season. The trend for the Bears this season has been for the defense to keep the team in the game early and wait for the offense to come alive late. Brown’s offense has outscored its opponents 15-7, 11-3 in the second half.

“We’re prepared – we’ve played against them before,” Bernstein said. “We know their strengths and weaknesses. We respect their talent, but we also have one of the best defenses in the country.”

Bernstein and captain Stephen Sawyer ’09 will be playing Harvard for the fourth time in their careers. They are familiar with the team and the Crimson attackers. The game will be the toughest defensive test the team has had all year, according to Walls. Smith and Walls will play alongside the two veterans as they look to shut down Harvard’s offense the same way they have defended their goal the entire year.

“It’s going to be a great game – it always is,” said Head Coach Mike Noonan. “Most Ivy League games so far this year have been decided by one goal – around 90%.”

Harvard has plenty of motivation coming into Saturday’s contest, as it remembers a close 3-2 overtime loss to Brown last season, the Bears taking the 2007 Ivy League championship, and losing 6 of the last 9 meetings to Brown. The Bears also recently jumped back into the top-25 after being ranked for the first several weeks of the season.

“All league games are battles – we thrive off the pressure,” Walls said. “We know every team is going to give us their best. We need to keep our intensity in order to get the results we want.”

On Saturday, the Bears hope to get off to a quick start right when the whistle blows at 7 p.m. as they look to start their Ivy League season 3-0 and remain the only undefeated team in the league.

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