In most ball sports, if you get absolutely dominated in shots, time of possession and turnovers, you lose the game. But if you’re Columbia coach Kevin McCarthy, you steal an emotional game away from the Bulldogs on a night when they did almost everything right.
“He actually apologized to me right after the game,” head coach Rudy Meredith said of McCarthy. “He said he was sorry because his team did not deserve to win the game.”
McCarthy was right: the Lions did not deserve it. They were outshot 21-14 by the Elis. They committed twice as many fouls as Yale did. They surrendered nine corner kicks to the Bulldogs while only getting five. In almost every statistical category, Columbia (11-3-2, 4-1-1 Ivy) was overshadowed by Yale’s (8-6-2, 2-3-1) dominating play.
When the Bulldogs scored the first goal early in the second half, a buzz cascaded through the packed Senior Night crowd at Reese Stadium. It seemed to be the opening of the floodgates for the Elis, who had played with a lot of emotion and pressured the Lions throughout the first half. The women huddled up in joy at midfield while the bleachers erupted into a delirious frenzy. All seemed right on a night honoring seniors who have brought leadership and inspiration to the Bulldogs through their four years.
But Columbia was the more opportunistic team on a night full of opportunities. Before the spectators had finished celebrating the Yale goal, the Lions dribbled down the field and scored 13 seconds later.
“One of the most vulnerable times for a team is right after it scores,” defender Hannah Smith ’10 said. “They just got behind us and scored.”
Meredith called the play the only mistake on a nearly perfect night.
“That was essentially the same play they ran when they started off with the ball at the beginning of the game,” he said. “They almost scored then, and when they kicked off after our goal, they did score.”
The goal seemed to deflate the Elis’ spirits and the Lions would score again less than ten minutes later for a 2-1 lead. It was a controversial goal off a scramble in front of the net after a corner kick. The ball seemed to roll along the goal line before Yale cleared it out. But the crowd’s collective sigh of relief quickly turned to outrage when the referee whistled the play as a goal.
The Bulldogs could have folded right there, given the way events played out after their first goal. But they did not. Instead, they settled down and played with a renewed sense of urgency, feeding off the energy from the fans and making extended runs into Columbia territory.
But the play of Lions’ goalkeeper, Rebecca Taylor, was simply too strong for Yale to overcome.
“She played like Wonder Woman. She was unbelievable,” Meredith said. “And that’s what it took — a great performance from their goalkeeper.”
With a few minutes left in the game, Reese Stadium was rocking to a fever pitch as the Bulldogs made their final push to tie the game. But Taylor’s spectacular saves simply left the crowd shaking their heads. Midfielder Megan Ashforth ’10 boomed a shot from 18 yards out that deflected off of several defenders before heading towards what appeared to be a wide-open net. But out of nowhere, Taylor leapt backwards and deflected the ball wide of the target.
Ten minutes later, forward Maggie Westfal ’09 managed to push the ball past Taylor initially, despite being hawked by multiple defenders. But Taylor hustled all the way back to the ball and fell on it just as it was about to cross the goal line, saving another goal. As the seconds ticked down, a stunned crowd looked on in disbelief as the Columbia bench stormed the field. Seniors Westfal, captain and forward Emma Whitfield ’09, midfielder Natalia Mann ’09 and defender Hayley Zevenbergen ’09 simply collapsed upon their knees, mulling the moment of defeat in their final home game.
“It was bittersweet to say goodbye to the field and end your Yale career that way,” Mann said. “But we were happy with the way we played and it was great to see all the fans and support we had out there.”
Yet for Smith, that wasn’t enough.
“Our seniors have been awesome leaders this year, and to lose it at home on their senior night — that’s what hurts me the most,” she said. “That’s how soccer goes — the best team doesn’t always win; but at the same time, that’s the beauty of the game.”
The loss mathematically eliminates the Bulldogs from contention for the Ivy League title, but that doesn’t mean they will not be playing their hearts out at Brown next week for their final game of the year.
“We have all the motivation in the world going into Brown next week after what happened [on Saturday],” Mann said. “Us four seniors, we don’t want to end our careers on a loss and we will definitely be playing our hardest to get our final win.”