The classic matchup between the first-place powerhouse and the struggling hardworking team is always exciting.
This Saturday, the men’s soccer team will host Penn with hopes of boosting the team morale and just plain getting a win. Penn has dominated the Ivy League thus far, losing only one game to Dartmouth on Oct. 15. The Elis are looking to snap their losing streak, which has lasted through five games in four and a half weeks.
“They are at the top of the league right now,” forward Alex Munns ’07 said. “They are organized in the back and dangerous on the outsides.”
The Bulldogs have a strategy to expose the Quakers where they can. The midfield, led by Jon Carlos ’09 and James Stewart ’07, will have to work the ball up to forwards Gage Hills ’07 and Munns with more consistency than they have in past games.
“We’re working on moving the ball from side to side to isolate their outsides and get numbers on the ball,” Munns said.
The Elis’ problems defending against set pieces and maintaining their focus in the defensive third may be exposed by Penn’s offense. The Quakers average 1.75 goals per game, compared to their opponents’ 0.88.
The Quakers are also good at possessing the ball and they will be patient in the offensive third. But the Elis have practiced ways to counter this, Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said.
“We need to make sure that we come in with a high level of concentration and do a good job defensively,” he said. “They are going to test us with their ball control and movement.”
When the Bulldogs lose their focus, they give up unearned goals inside the box.
“We just need to focus the whole game,” midfielder Jordan Raybould ’10 said. “The only times when we let a goal in is when we let our guard down.”
Goalkeeper Erik Geiger ’08 said that he is confident that the match will be even because of all the work the Elis have put in this week on their offense and their possession.
“I think the offense will take care of itself when we start defending,” he said.
In addition to strategy, Munns said the key to winning the game is having the mental toughness to overcome the losing streak.
“It’s psychological,” he said. “We need to get over this block that we’ve been in. No one on the team has lost this many games in a row before, so we need to get over the psychological burden [of a losing streak].”
To break that burden, the team needs to have a consistent level of play and work hard to make the simple things familiar again, Munns said.
The Elis typically play one half of dominant soccer but fall apart in the other half of the game. This weekend, Yale needs a high level of play in both periods to win, Tompkins said.
“What we need is a well-balanced 90-minute performance,” he said. “We are certainly capable of it, and the guys are really determined to win.”
A balanced game will be the result of the Bulldogs stepping up their pressure in the offensive third and playing to their strengths — possessing and moving the ball. Captain and midfielder Jordan Rieger ’07 said that if the Bulldogs can improve their play on set pieces, they will be able to win.
“I think we need to be effective on free kicks, both defending and attacking,” he said. “Penn has scored goals off of corners, and it’s important for us to be able to defend those.”
The Bulldogs have a strong desire to win and a good work ethic, players said, and those attributes should work in their favor against the talented Quakers.
“We need to hold on, be strong defensively and work hard with purposeful effort,” Munns said.