M. soccer’s fall ends with tourney letdown

The fans who packed into a freezing Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium two weeks ago couldn’t ask for more in an NCAA Tournament game. After 96 minutes of emotional and well-played soccer, a stunning golden goal brought one team to euphoria and another to its knees.

The only problem was that the fan section that erupted in joy was clad in the wrong school colors, the players celebrating a momentous win wearing the wrong jerseys.

Stony Brook (13-5-4) stormed back from an early deficit to upset Yale (10-4-4, 5-1-1 Ivy), 2-1, in overtime in the first round of the NCAA College Cup on Nov. 20 in New Haven. An inability to capitalize on scoring chances, a problem that has plagued the Bulldogs all season, came back to bite the Elis at the most costly time.

“It is tough to end in this fashion,” Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said. “We had so many scoring opportunities, but the name of the game is execution and we weren’t able to take advantage of our good play.”

Yale grabbed the momentum early in the game off the leg of forward Gage Hills ’07. Hills, the spark plug for the Bulldogs offense all season long, handled a perfect pass from midfielder Alex Guzinski ’09 and sent a shot right past Stony Brook goalie E.J. Xikis three minutes into the game.

Hills, who scored his fourth goal and 10th point of the season, was quick to give all the credit to Guzinski’s setup.

“[Alex] just sent a really good ball past the defenders,” he said. “I got it in good position and was able to execute.”

Later on in the first half it looked as if Yale had tacked on a second goal, but the score was immediately overturned due to an offsides call. The costly ruling opened the door for the Seawolves to quickly jump back into the game. Early in the second frame, Tamar Mohamed received a Chris Megaloudis pass deep in the Yale zone, beat a defender and rifled a shot past Yale keeper Erik Geiger ’08 to tie the game at 1-1.

The setback did not seem to fluster the Bulldogs, who dominated possession in the second frame and set up chance after chance to reclaim the lead. Not surprisingly, at the middle of all the Eli activity was the explosive Hills, who constantly got past the Stony Brook defenders only to be denied by the stellar Xikis several times.

Xikis emerged as the most valuable player, getting just enough of his hands on shots by Alex Munns ’07 and Jon Carlos ’09 to keep the game deadlocked. Every time the Bulldogs penetrated the Stony Brook defense, the cheers of the Yale faithful would crescendo in hope. But time after time it was an outstretched Xikis making another unbelievable stop to bring the roar back down to a whimper.

Tompkins said the Bulldogs missed out on golden opportunities to seize the contest.

“After we got the early goal I thought we could break them,” Tompkins said. “It came down to finishing on chances, and I credit the keeper for making big plays.”

Only three minutes into the overtime, Stony Brook’s Adam Ciklic ended Yale’s magical season. Mohamed put his stamp on the game again, this time in the form of a perfect cross to a streaking Ciklic, who headed the ball right past a stunned Geiger. The small but loyal Stony Brook contingency exploded with cheers and the home crowd could only blankly stare at a Seawolves squad celebrating around keeled-over Bulldog players on the field.

Though a bitter pill to swallow, the loss should not overshadow what otherwise was an amazing season for a Yale program that is on the rise. The Bulldogs not only reclaimed a spot among the Ivy League elite, but flashed the potential to become a national presence as well.

Tompkins was quick to look forward to a promising future for a young Bulldog squad that will return nine out of 11 starters next season.

“Perhaps this is as good as we are at this time. Now we’ve got to become a team that can put home chances,” Tompkins said. “I have nothing but the greatest admiration for our team. We showed the potential for our team to be very strong.”

It would be hard to argue that the Seawolves, who would go on to lose to UConn, 2-0, in the second round, played a better overall game than the Elis. When it seems just a few unlucky bounces or deflections stood in Yale’s way to the second round, it is tempting for Bulldog fans and players alike to play the “What if?” game. But as Munns said, the stinging memory of the loss should be used as motivation for next year.

“Every time you get to the tournament it’s an accomplishment,” Munns said. “Now we know we can compete, and we know what it takes to be successful. Everyone who’s seen us play this year knows we have the potential to be even better and to go even further. So I think our future is very promising.”

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