The Columbia men’s soccer team (8-7-1, 4-2 Ivy) kept its postseason and conference championship dreams alive with a 2-1 win over the Harvard Crimson (2-11-3, 0-5-1 Ivy). In the seniors’ final home game of the regular season, the Lions went ahead by two goals in the opening half hour thanks to senior center back Ronnie Shaban. The Crimson fought back with a goal 10 minutes into the second period, but the Light Blue held on for the win, keeping the team in the title hunt. (Shaban is a sports columnist for Spectator.)
“I thought that in the first half we actually scored against the run of play, but the goals came from things that we’ve continually—throughout the season—worked on and things that we’ve scored from in other games,” head coach Kevin Anderson said. “And then the second half—let’s be honest, it wasn’t great. We gave up a goal on a restart, but other than that, we haven’t given up a shot. We did a good job and we put ourselves in the only position that we could, and hopefully if some results go our way, we’re playing next weekend against Cornell for the title.”
But to be in that position, the Lions will need some help. Since Brown and Dartmouth both won their games on Saturday, the Light Blue needs to beat the Big Red and hope the Bears and the Big Green tie next weekend.
The Light Blue struggled to get going in the opening exchanges, but it was first on the board. Sophomore midfielder David Najem whipped in a free kick from the left side in the 16th minute that crashed against the woodwork. However, the Crimson failed to clear its lines, and sophomore forward Henning Sauerbier was fouled just inside the box. Shaban, who scored the winner against Adelphi on Tuesday, made no mistake from the penalty spot, going high and to the right side past Harvard’s Austin Harms.
Shaban scored his fourth goal of the season to double the Lions’ advantage in the 27th minute. Junior winger Nick Scott swung in a corner kick that the center back converted with a header. It was Scott’s sixth assist of the year, and it helped Shaban climb to second in the team’s scoring charts.
“It feels great,” Shaban said. “It’s a big relief we were able to hold on to that lead. I’ve got to give credit to Scotty—he’s delivered some good balls in from those corner kicks I’ve been able to get onto the end of. There’s a lot of excitement going into that last game.”
The Crimson nearly cut the deficit at the end of the first period with a header opportunity from sophomore Pascal Mensah, but the Lions went in at the break with the two-goal cushion and a 6-5 edge in shots.
The Crimson came out fighting in the second half and narrowed the deficit in the 55th minute when sophomore forward Connor McCarthy tapped the ball in after a corner.
Less than 10 minutes later, freshman midfielder Tim Schmoll—a commanding presence in midfield all afternoon—fired a shot onto the crossbar that just missed tying the game.
While the rest of the encounter was nerve-racking for the Columbia defense, it held strong for the 2-1 win. Shaban was replaced by fellow senior Nick Faber, who, along with classmate Jesse Vella and juniors Brendan O’Hearn, Quentin Grigsby, and Ifiok Akpandak, saw out the remainder of the contest for the Light Blue.
Senior captain Mike Mazzullo battled illness to take part in the clash and emphasized that the match wasn’t being viewed as the last home game of 2011, as the Lions could return to Columbia Soccer Stadium for a postseason clash in the NCAA tournament—if they make it.
“We don’t think of it as our last time here,” he said. “We’ve still got a chance to come back. Three points is three points, and now we’re going to Cornell with a shot at the Ivy title—that’s it.