Unbeaten Lions come to Reese

In the depiction of lion-baiting on the Shield of Achilles, the crowd roots for the bulldog and not for the lion. The same should go for women’s soccer this weekend.

With the future of their season on the line, the Yale Bulldogs (6-6-2, 2-2-1 Ivy) will battle against the Ivy League’s top team, the Columbia Lions (8-4-3, 4-0-1) on Saturday at Reese Stadium. Columbia, riding a five-game win streak, will prove to be a formidable opponent for the Elis, forward Crysti Howser ’09 said.

“They’ve been playing really well, and it’s definitely going to be a tough game,” she said.

The Lions, who defeated traditional Ivy League powerhouse Dartmouth last Saturday, boast a powerful front line with forward Shannon Munoz, the fourth consecutive Ivy League Player of the Week from Columbia, leading the ranks. Munoz leads the Lions with seven goals and three assists on the season, followed by Sophie Reiser with three goals and four assists.

Columbia plays a more direct soccer game than the Elis are accustomed to, Yale head coach Rudy Meredith said. The Lions’ simplistic style of play emphasizes long kicks down the field before the offense descends on the goal with notorious speed and power.

“Columbia does not play skill soccer,” midfielder Erin Gillespie ’07 said. “Whatever they’ve been doing has been effective.”

The Lions play a similar game to Dartmouth (10-4-1, 4-1-0), and the Bulldogs have used their experience against the Big Green — a 1-0 loss on Oct. 8 — to work on their defense over the past week in preparation for Saturday’s game.

“We’ve been working on their style of play,” Howser said. “We had a lot of problems in the Dartmouth game. Defending against their style is something we didn’t do. We didn’t react very well. So the coaches wanted us to be able to handle that.”

Both teams, however, have been drawing a hard line when it comes to defense. While Bulldog goalkeeper Susan Starr ’08 holds a 0.46 save percentage, her Lion counterpart Allison Vespa guards a 0.76 mark. The Elis have allowed only one goal in their last five games and just 18 goals all season, and Columbia has given up a mere 11.

The Elis will enter the weekend with increased confidence after last Saturday’s match against Penn, which Meredith called one of the best games of their season.

“Team morale is very high,” Howser said.

The risk of losing on Saturday is that the Bulldogs may not be able to get an at-large bid from the NCAA Selection Committee. Beating such a strong team as Columbia would possibly allow the Elis to enter the College Cup Tournament on a wild card, Gillespie said.

“If we lose, we will be out of the tournament,” Howser said. “There’s a lot of added importance on this game. It’s do or die. We need to win this game to stay alive for the NCAA Tournament.”

Given that the Elis have only scored 12 points the entire season, the focus will be on finishing this Saturday.

“Our inability to keep possession in the final third and finish on our chances has been a problem all season, and that’s being reflected in the number of games we’ve won.” Gillespie said.

The stakes are high. For Columbia, this Saturday could mean their first-ever Ivy Championship. For Yale, it may determine whether or not they continue on to NCAA College Cup.

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