A win is a win.
That was the bottom line at the Yale-Dartmouth women’s soccer game Friday night at Reese Stadium. The 90-minute competition might not have been pretty, but the Elis (7-3, 2-0 Ivy) blanked the Big Green (6-5, 2-1 Ivy) 2-0 and climbed to first place atop the Ivy League standings.
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“It feels good now,” head coach Rudy Meredith said of the win. “We have room for error if we slip up later in the season.”
An early two-goal lead put the Bulldogs well ahead of their opponents, but Dartmouth never let up its fast and physical play and controlled possession for most of the match.
Both of Yale’s goals came within a little more than one minute of each other.
Forward Miyuki Hino ’12 got the Eli offense going with a hard shot from the left that a Dartmouth defender blocked in the 17th minute.
But moments later, forward Becky Brown ’11 capitalized on Yale’s second opportunity of the game, sending a cross from forward Leslie Perez ’10 soaring past Dartmouth’s diving goalkeeper and into the right side of the net.
It only took until 18:24 for the Bulldogs to score another equally well-executed goal. This time, forward Kristen Forster ’13 fed the cross to Hino, who settled the ball and knocked it into nearly the same spot Brown’s shot had found.
“They were very nice goals,” Meredith said. “When we get the ball to our forwards and we start playing our combination plays, we are very good.”
Brown added: “When we stayed composed and just played to feet, we played some really pretty soccer.”
Brown now leads the Elis with 10 goals, while Forster has tallied a team-leading six assists.
The Bulldogs continued to control play for about another 15 minutes. In the 22nd minute, Perez once again centered the ball to Brown, who drilled a shot just wide of the net.
Then, the Big Green finally regrouped and responded to Yale’s rapidly acquired two-goal lead with a fast, furious and aggressive style of competition.
“They typically are like that,” Meredith said of Dartmouth’s physical play. “Part of it was frustration; part of it was that they normally are a very aggressive team. They didn’t give you a lot of time on the ball, and they try to get you to make mistakes from their pressure.”
And it quickly became apparent that this strategy worked for the Big Green, as the increased intensity caused the match to develop a steadily more chaotic and sporadic nature.
“We were so fortunate for that [two-goal lead],” defender Caitlin Collins ’10 said. “The game would have been so much uglier if we didn’t have that 2–0 cushion.”
Yale had a few opportunities to put the game out of reach at the end of the first half but failed to capitalize on its chances.
Becky Brown saw her shot go wide in the 31st minute. About 10 minutes later, Forster took a long shot which Dartmouth keeper Colleen Hogan knocked wide.
The half closed with Yale leading 2–0 and recording six shots to Dartmouth’s five.
The Big Green stormed out with just as much pressure — if not more — at the halftime restart, and its relentless attackers forced Yale to fall back on the defensive for nearly the entire next 45 minutes.
“A team going down 2-0 at halftime is going to throw everything they have at you in the second half,” Hino said. “I think we at times struggled to clear the ball, but it was a lot of heart and hustle.”
But play did not just get more aggressive in the next period. It became dirtier as well. The Big Green racked up nine fouls, while Yale committed only one.
“I think they were definitely getting a little aggressive because they got frustrated, but it ended up hurting them in the end because we got free kicks toward their box,” Perez said.
Dartmouth recorded nine shots to Yale’s two in the second half.
The combination of physical and intense play proved troublesome for the Elis, as they struggled to move the ball away from their defensive zone. A particularly dangerous attempt in the 60th minute by Dartmouth midfielder Becky Poskin was just saved by Bulldog goalkeeper Ayana Sumiyasu ’11.
“I think we sort of lost our intensity in the second half enough for them to gain the momentum,” Collins said. “We also stopped connecting passes.”
But the Elis clung on just long enough, with Sumiyasu making five saves to preserve the win and collect her fourth shutout of the season.
“I think part of it was our fatigue,” Meredith said of the tough period. “We got a little bit tired, and we started chasing the ball instead of us holding the ball offensively and having them chase us … We kind of bent, but we didn’t break.”
Added Brown: “It got really physical … but a win is a win.”
Yale also emerged remarkably unharmed from the physical match. The team already had plenty of players injured or recovering going into the Dartmouth game, and yet again the Elis competed with a lineup that was determined at the last minute.
Despite these odds, Yale has won its last four matches and risen to 2-0 in the Ivy League — tied for first place with Harvard (2–0), Columbia (2–1) and Dartmouth.
For Meredith, that ability to perform at a high level even without all players feeling 100 percent is the hallmark of a strong team.
“I think to have a good team everybody has got to step up,” Meredith said. “Everybody has got to be able to accept their role when their number is called.”