The men’s soccer team is hoping 13 is its lucky number.
With nine out of their starting 11 players back as well as four of the top five scorers, the Bulldogs are looking to bring home their first Ivy League title since 1991.
Last year, the Bulldogs bested some tough, non-conference opponents like Stanford and the University of Connecticut on their way to a solid 10-7 record. Despite these victories, however, the Bulldogs were unable to cash in on an Ivy League title, finishing second behind perennial powerhouse Brown University.
In order to make this season different from last, the Bulldogs must also make up for the key losses to graduation. Jay Alberts, last year’s captain who was recently drafted by Major League Soccer’s Minnesota Thunder, provided an enormous offensive spark for the team. Meanwhile Brian Roberts anchored the defense for the Elis this past season, allowing a paltry 1.06 goals per game. For this season’s captain Ryan Raybould ’05, the Class of 2007 will be playing an important part in filling the places of the departed Bulldogs.
“We have a lot of top-end talent returning,” Raybould said. “I think an important part for us is to make sure that the right guys are in the right spots on the field contributing. We have a good sophomore class that is really going to start producing and filling the voids left by Brian and Jay. I’m really optimistic that a lot of those younger guys are going to come into those roles and become the players they are meant to be.”
Two of the sophomores Raybould is talking about are forwards Gage Hills ’07 and Alex Munns ’07. As rookies last year, Munns was third on the team in points while Hills saw action in all 17 games. Defender Jake Miller ’07, who played in three games as a rookie, will also see significant playing time this season.
As for the upperclassmen, midfielder Andrew Dealy ’05 and forward Lindsey Williams ’05 hope to build on their first three years on the team. Dealy, who is one of two Ivy League players to garner pre-season All-America honors, led the league in assists last year with eight and tied for third in points with 18. As for Williams, he is hoping to rebound from a disappointing junior campaign and regain the form that helped him lead the league in points as a sophomore.
Yale head coach Brian Tompkins believes Williams is primed for his final season as a Bulldog.
“I think last year Lindsey perhaps came a little too tentative,” Tompkins said. “He was thinking too much and became really analytical. He’s spent the entire off-season working really hard and he’s clearly enjoying himself on the field. He’s been playing better than ever.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs have the twofold task of making up for the departure of Roberts while doing so without a single senior. The defense will also miss the presence of Marc Vimolratana ’06. Vimolratana, who played in all 17 games last year, is doing research this semester and will not suit up for the Elis. As it stands, the Bulldogs will look to Jon Skalecki ’06, who has started in all his games as a Bulldog, to lead the defense.
Providing the last line of defense for the Bulldogs will be Matt Aleksinas ’06, who manned the net for every minute last season. Aleksinas was second in the league in shutouts last year and third in goals against average.
“I think our defense has some experience under their belt,” Raybould said. “I think it’s just about playing good team defense and working as a unit. That’s going to determine how far we go.”
The Bulldogs are expected to go quite far in the Ivies this year, with their stiffest competition coming from reigning champs Brown. The Bears, who has won the title in seven of the past 10 years, are ranked No. 21 nationally.
“Our teams know each other very well,” Tompkins says. “We play in each other’s tournaments and we know the ins and outs of each other’s games. There’s only one thing for sure in a Yale-Brown game, and that’s that it will be close. The road to the Ivy League Championship will go through Brown.”
Dealy believes that the parity in this year’s Ivy League will make it the most competitive season he has seen in his four years at Yale.
“All the teams are about the same,” Dealy says. “I think eliminating the opportunities of the other teams and taking advantage of our opportunities will be key. I think [the title] is completely up-for-grabs and we have as good an opportunity as everyone else.”
While the Bulldogs will travel to Providence, R.I. to play in the Brown Classic this weekend, they will have to wait a few more weeks to play the Bears. The Bulldogs face San Francisco on Friday, and will then play the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Clemson on Sunday.