The women of Eli soccer need to rebound from three straight losses, and what better way to do just that than to squash archrival Harvard on Saturday afternoon?
The Bulldogs (5-3-0, 0-1-0 Ivy) will take on the Crimson (2-4-2, 0-1-0) at Harvard’s Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium in what will be the final taste of this intense rivalry for the senior soccer players. Last season, the two teams battled for 110 scoreless minutes of soccer — 90 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtimes — before finally settling for a 0-0 tie. But the Bulldogs look to take this year’s game outright, and on paper they are set to do so in convincing fashion.
“For the seniors, it’s our last time playing Harvard, so we’re going to be really pumped up,” midfielder Mia Arakaki ’05 said. “We know Harvard has been struggling so far. Coming off of our string of three losses, we’re definitely ready to step it up and prove that we’re going to be one of the top teams, if not the top team, in our league.”
The Elis opened the season 5-0, a program record, including an upset of last season’s NCAA Tournament finalist UConn. The Bulldogs made Yale women’s soccer history again when they broke into the national rankings for the first time ever when on Sept. 13 the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll rated Yale at No. 19. The Elis also enjoyed the top ranking in the Northeast region above the rest of the Ancient Eight with the exception of Princeton, which competes in the Mid-Atlantic region.
But the Yale squad has fallen on hard times of late, falling in three straight contests against nationally-ranked opponents, including last weekend’s 3-0 loss in the Ivy opener at home against then-No. 17 Princeton (6-1-0, 1-0-0). While the surging Tigers are now No. 11 in the nation, the Bulldogs have fallen out of the national rankings and are no longer first in the Northeast. Yale is now tied at No. 3 with Syracuse (6-2-1) in the Northeast behind Boston University (7-1-1) and UConn (5-4-0).
Although the Elis have experienced woes of late, the Crimson have had their fair share of frustrations all season long. All four of Harvard’s losses have been by a single goal, and three of them by 1-0 scores. These numbers highlight an offensively-challenged Crimson team that ranks last in the Ivy League in goals per game (1.00).
The Bulldogs have fared little better recently, scoring no goals in their three consecutive losses. Both teams have been stingy on defense, with an identical 0.88 goals allowed per game. That number ballooned for the Elis recently after allowing six goals in their three losses. Prior to the current skid, the Bulldogs had one of the best goals-against averages in the nation, having allowed just one goal in their first five games.
“If you look at [the Crimson's] scores, they haven’t given up a lot of goals either,” Yale head coach Rudy Meredith said. “Neither team has given up a whole lot of goals, but neither team has scored a whole lot of goals.”
This week in practice, Meredith said he made some adjustments to improve the Bulldogs’ offense. He will move more players up-field in an effort to create more Eli scoring opportunities. When asked if that would put a strain on goalkeeper Sarah Walker ’05 and the Bulldog defense, Meredith said it was a necessary trade-off.
“[The change] is going to put pressure not just on [Walker], but on our defense in general,” Meredith said. “I’ve talked to our defenders and our goalkeepers, and they understand what we’ve got to do — we have to sacrifice some defense for some offense.”
Walker said her defense will be up for the challenge.
“I think our defense has done a really good job,” Walker said. “Even if there is a little more pressure, I think they’ll step up and handle it, and it won’t be too much of a factor.”
But more than tactical adjustments, Meredith said he is looking for his team to recapture its fire.
“We need to play with the same type of intensity level that we did against UConn,” Meredith said. “We have to come to the game with a little bit of urgency to score goals; not just the forwards, but everybody in general. That’s the mentality we have to take — ‘What can I do to help my team score?'”