It was a tale of two halves for the men’s soccer team Saturday night at Reese Stadium.
After a sluggish first half, the Bulldogs dominated No. 25 Penn for much of the second half, yet once again gave up a late goal on their way to a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to the Quakers.
Center midfielder Andy Hackbarth ’12 scored his first career goal for the Bulldogs (5-7-2, 1-3 Ivy) on a header off a Jordan Raybould ’10 free kick in the 64th minute to tie the contest up at one apiece. But the Elis would not score again.
The game conditions were poor, as hard rain made the turf slick and as swirling winds swayed the ball’s trajectory.
Although both teams struggled to control the ball early on, Penn (9-2-3, 3-1) eventually settled down and began attacking the home squad.
Their first serious scoring chance came just after the five-minute mark, when Quaker midfielder Kevin Unger’s long distance effort forced goalkeeper Travis Chulick ’10 to dive to his left and make a great save.
Unger would eventually break the deadlock in the 36th minute, when he took a cross from Aaron Ross on the left side and buried a half-volley into the far side of the net.
The Bulldogs had some chances of their own: Both captain and defender Alex Guzinski ’09 and Hackbarth saw headers miss the goal in the first half of play. But it was the Quakers who looked to be the better team before the halftime break, outshooting the Elis 8-4.
Players and coaches acknowledged the weather as a reason for Yale’s early struggles but noted the team’s lack of intensity and competitiveness as a more determining factor.
“It seemed like we had a rough first half, we kind of came out flat,” Hackbarth said. “They were winning all the 50-50 balls.”
During halftime, head coach Brian Tompkins motivated his team to start asserting themselves against Penn’s physical players, who pushed the Elis off the ball as the referee consistently let the two teams play instead of calling fouls.
“We talked about needing to compete harder, be tougher and assert ourselves,” Tompkins said. “We were allowing ourselves to be manhandled. I thought we were feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Yet the Elis change in play also came from within, according to Guzinski.
“In general, our team did a good job of realizing that this team wasn’t better than us,” he said. “We challenged for every ball, we worked off the ball for each other and it paid off. Mostly it’s just self-motivation.”
The Bulldogs came out firing after the break, getting three quality chances on goal in the first minute of play. The first and best chance was a good individual effort by forward Andy Shorten ’11, who beat a defender on the right side of the field before firing a low shot that was blocked by Penn keeper Drew Healy.
Shorten and forward Chris Dennen ’12 played crucial roles in Yale’s second-half resurgence, as their speed and strength forced a notoriously stingy Penn defense into making mistakes by putting incessant pressure on the Quaker fullbacks.
Although both players came into the game off the bench after half an hour had expired, they went on to play the rest of the game.
“[Dennen and Shorten] forced the Penn defenders to hurry and really put a lot of physical pressure on them, which we hadn’t done in the first half,” Tompkins said. “We took a gamble with two guys that haven’t really played together, and it worked.”
As Yale took control of the game, Penn seemed content with putting all its players behind the ball and sitting back on defense with the lead, counterattacking when given the opportunity.
A goal for the Bulldogs seemed inevitable and deserving, given Yale’s offensive struggles this season, but there was no guarantee that the home team would be able to tie up the game, 1-1.
Yet according to Hackbarth, Raybould’s quick free kick enabled the freshman midfielder to find his team’s equalizer.
“Jordan took the kick fairly early,” Hackbarth said. “I think they were still puzzled on who was marking who. We caught them early and Jordan hit a perfect ball to the far post.”
Encouraged by the goal, the Elis continued to dominate the Quakers, but were unable to find the winning goal. In a situation hauntingly similar to last weekend’s last second loss to Boston College, Yale conceded a goal within the last two minutes of play to lose a game they could have won.
Quaker forward Omid Shokoufandeh — who had been giving Eli defenders trouble all day with his fancy footwork — notched the game-winner in the 89th minute for the away squad. After a long throw near the Yale end-line was flicked on by Penn defender Zach Barnett, Shokoufandeh deflected the ball in at the near post.
Despite the loss, Tompkins seemed very pleased with his team’s second-half performance, while acknowledging that they would have to work on game management in the final minutes of games.
The Elis will look to bounce back on Saturday when they welcome Columbia to Reese Stadium at 4:30 p.m.