Nearly 15 minutes into last Sunday’s game against Maine at Reese Stadium, Jon Carlos ’10 replaced Kevin Pope ’10 in the men’s soccer team’s midfield. After a leave of absence during the 2007 season, Carlos took the field with energy and intensity. In the second half, he was swapped for midfielder Andy Shorten ’11. Shorten attempted two shots before forward Liam Leonard ’09 stepped in to pressure Maine’s defense during the final eight minutes of the match.
But the three bench performances were only a part of the strong 2-0 victory, Yale’s second at home since 2006.
With the emergence of a talented sophomore class and a wealth of rookies, the upperclassmen at the backbone of the Bulldog squad will have reliable support off the bench in the coming season.
“We’ve got legitimate competition for almost every spot on the field,” head coach Brian Tompkins said. “That’s a good situation for us because it keeps players sharp and covers us in case of injury.”
Back in 2006, an injury to even a single player was a somewhat handicapping event for the Elis. Early in the 2006 season, forward Gage Hills ’06 went down with an ankle injury at UConn, leaving a gap in the Bulldogs’ offensive line and deflated attitudes all around on the field in his wake.
Last year, efforts from the class of 2010 — including Pope’s team-leading four goals — were complemented by a strong group of freshmen. As a result, the squad began to recover its offensive prowess.
This season, the Bulldogs will hope for more of a turnaround in offensive production as Tompkins has recruited a cadre of eight freshmen, most of whom are midfielders or forwards. Add a pair of athletic walk-ons, Sam Miles ’11 and Sam Post ’09, to the mix, along with a more experienced sophomore class, and the Elis are looking at a much deeper squad than they have seen in the past two years.
“I think our team is very well-rounded this year,” captain and defender Alex Guzinski ’09 said. “It’s deep in every position, and that gives us the opportunity to mix things around if things aren’t working.”
Midfielder Alex Afsahi ’09 added, “In terms of depth, when we have guys come off the bench, they are just as talented and fit as the starters. The difference between the starters and players coming off the bench is so much smaller than in previous years.”
The Elis may witness an outburst of offense this year, if the pair of goals on Sunday are to be taken as any indication. Guzinski noted how the team could have put some more points on the board with its seven shots on goal and near-constant pressure after the opening 20 minutes.
The pair of shots that found the back of the net both came off restarts, something on which the Bulldogs tried to capitalize last season but were not nearly as effective as in the game against Maine.
The Elis also had the edge on the Black Bears in fitness, and the season is young yet. Afsahi said the incoming class has a physical presence in terms of height and speed that is new to the team.
“Last year we just ran out of gas,” he said. “We didn’t have the people who could step in in October and November and maintain the level of intensity. That’s not the story this year.”
The outlook is promising, but as Tompkins and Guzinski said, the class of 2011 has a ways to go in terms of experience and readiness; but overall, the underclassmen are effective at forcing more competitive practices and more competition for spots on the field.
But talented and capable players alone would be unsuccessful without the team atmosphere the Elis have built up, Tompkins said.
“I think that this is a group that is really into the idea that we can be better than the sum of our talents, and they’ve gone about that in a workman-like way,” he added. “So we’ve gotten off to a good start, but we won’t make any assumptions about the future.”
When Leonard stepped off the field at the final whistle on a Sunday afternoon in which three freshmen started and five new players notched playing time on the pitch, the Elis found themselves the victors of their first match of the season.