Making strides, m. soccer wins, 2-0

Last year’s men’s soccer team might not have won yesterday afternoon’s contest at neighbor Quinnipiac. This year’s team had no problem, though, as it showed the strides it’s making early in the season.

The Elis (3-2-1, 0-0 Ivy) handed Quinnipiac (3-1-2) its first loss of the season, 2-0 in Hamden.

In a game that featured numerous quality scoring chances, the Elis made the best of theirs, demonstrating an ability to win close games — something they struggled to do last season, losing four games by one goal and tying five others. Despite a 16-13 shot advantage for the Bobcats, Yale forced Quinnipiac goalie Frederick Hall into seven saves, while Travis Chulick ’10 only had to make three stops in his third shutout of the season.

Forward Liam Leonard ’09 struck twice in the first half, scoring goals in the 23rd and 34th minutes, with assists from Charlie Neil ’12 on the first and Justin Song ’10 on the second.

“I felt like I had missed some chances early on in the season, so on a personal level, it was good to get a goal to boost my confidence,” Leonard said. “It was also good to reward the team for playing hard.”

The Bulldogs once again proved to be versatile on offense. After beginning the match with long balls over the top of the defense to running forwards, the Bulldogs settled down into their more frequent style of possession play midway through the first half.

“You take what the opponents give you,” head coach Brian Tompkins said. “You have to test the opponent’s defense.”

The shift paid dividends, as Leonard’s first score came off a quick pass from Neil, while his second followed Song’s cross from the right side of the field after a quick restart from center midfielder Sam Post ’09.

In the second half, once the Elis were up by two, they reverted back to long balls in response to Quinnipiac’s high-pressure defense.

“When you’re under pressure,” Tompkins said, “you want to play it over their pressure.”

The defense once again showed its experience, looking calm and composed in dealing with the Bobcats’ pressure — which included midfielder Graciano Brito, last year’s NEC Player of the Year, who is also on the 2008 Hermann Trophy Watch List, given to college soccer’s top player. All four starters — captain Alex Guzinski ’09, Markus Jackson ’09, Frank Piasta ’09 and Marcus DiLallo ’12 — played the whole 90 minutes.

“They had two very good forwards [Uchoa and Brito],” Piasta said. “They created some chances. We scrambled in the box — it’s not something that would have happened last year. … We did a much better job containing. We blocked some shots and were able to dispossess them.”

After a first 20 minutes with relatively few good scoring chances, Leonard’s first came in the 23rd minute after Neil won the ball in the midfield and made a quick pass to him.

From the middle of the field, Leonard quickly cut to the right and slotted a right-footed shot into the lower-right corner of the net, past Quinnipiac’s diving Hall.

Despite the home team’s attempts to respond positively to the goal, Leonard said his score gave the Elis a lift in what was a tight game.

“At that point, it could have gone either way,” he said. “It kicked us into gear and allowed us to possess and have more chances.”

Although the Bulldogs managed to control the ball better from then on, it was the home team that almost tied up the game in the 32nd minute. But Brito’s blast rebounded off the crossbar and bounced near the goal line, only to be cleared by a Yale defender.

The Elis responded to the potential scare with a Leonard header that gave Yale the cushion it needed. After drawing a foul, Post restarted the game quickly, finding Song open on the right wing. Song’s pinpointed cross found Leonard in the middle for an open header at close range.

The Bulldogs looked a bit shaky early in the second half but eventually found their composure and effectively dealt with Quinnipiac’s relentless pressure. The Bobcats could have easily made the game interesting, but midfielder Rodrigo Ochoa’s header in the first minute of the second half once again hit the woodwork.

In the 81st minute, in a play reminiscent of Yale’s 0-0 tie against Sacred Heart (1-4-1), Bulldog defenders blocked numerous shots from close range in the penalty box.

Tompkins acknowledged some good fortune regarding the two crossbar shots, but also gave his own team credit.

“You make your own luck,” he said. “Any game is going to turn on some key moments. We were able to turn two key moments into goals. There will be moments for you and moments against you.”

Despite being without regulars Eric Meyer ’11, Tyler Guse ’09, Brad Rose ’11 and Andy Hackbarth ’12 because of sickness and injury, Tompkins demonstrated his team’s depth with frequent substitutions. Both Leonard and Post were substitutes.

Following the team’s disappointing tie against Sacred Heart, Guzinski said he was pleased with the victory.

“It wasn’t an easy win,” he said. “They put pressure on us in the second half, but we held strong. It’s something that’s been missing these past seasons. It’s good to see that our team is winning these scrappy games.”

The Bulldogs play their third straight in-state grudge match on Saturday at 4 p.m., when they welcome Fairfield to Reese Stadium. None of Yale’s players has ever defeated the Stags, losing twice and tying once in the past three years.

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