There is no playoff in the Ivy League, but on Saturday night Yale and Brown played the equivalent of a championship final. For both teams it was the culmination of the season: Brown entered the game on a six-game unbeaten streak while Yale was returning home, where it had scored three times as many goals as its opponents.
Whoever won would be catapulted not only into first place but also into prime position to win Ivies. Whoever lost, however, would drop out of the race altogether.
“[This was] definitely the most important game of my career,” midfielder Charlie Neil ’12 said, who was celebrating Senior Day with six other teammates. “We fought for four years to get a chance at the Ivy Title, and it all came down to this game.”
After getting outshot by a landslide 17–0 margin and fielding only one corner kick to the Bears’ 13, Yale was still improbably tied 0–0 with Brown when the game moved into overtime. After just one minute into overtime, however, a hand ball was called on the Bulldogs in the box, and Brown forward Austin Mandel forced the 6’5” Bobby Thalman ’13 to lay out along the ground when he scored his second goal of the season on a low ball inside the post.
The penalty kick moved his team into first place and ended Yale’s hopes for the Ivy title.
“I thought our guys played with guts and conviction tonight,” head coach Brian Tompkins said. “It was a cruel way to lose.”
After weathering an incessant Brown attack in the first half, the Bulldogs managed to find some room to breathe in the second. But scoring chances for Yale were few and far between.
“It was definitely a game where, looking at the stat line, it wouldn’t seem that we were in contention,” Thalman said. “[But] we didn’t feel like we were out of it or that we couldn’t win. The guys never gave up.”
Thalman made five saves, including a full-extension dive to block a shot just inside the post midway through the second half. Defender Nick Alers ’14, who was recently named to the Capital One Academic All-District I First Team, was another standout for the back line, dispossessing the Brown attackers to prevent several one-on-one matchups.
Emotions eventually boiled over on both sides. The Brown coaching staff felt its players were being mugged, and the Yale staff criticized a no-call in the second half that denied the Bulldogs a penalty kick and a shot for the win.
“The officials need to manage the emotions and confrontations of the game,” Tompkins said. “I think [the officiating] was inconsistent … It looked like a penalty to me.”
The emotions culminated in a flurry of yellow cards just minutes before the end of the game, when players Milan Tica ’13 and Brown forward Ben Maurey had to be separated by teammates and line judges. The Bears failed to score and the game moved into overtime. After 90 minutes of what Thalman described as a “bend-but-don’t-break defensive effort,” Yale finally snapped.
Mandel’s penalty kick moved Brown (10–4–2, 4–1–1 Ivy) into first place with Dartmouth and dropped Yale (7–7–2, 3–3 Ivy) to fifth, out of the Ivy League race.
Even though there’s no championship left for which to play, Thalman said the team won’t treat the season like it’s over.
“We’re going to attack this week with a sense of professionalism and try to get Yale men’s soccer its first winning season in five years,” Thalman said.
Yale’s last game of the season is next Saturday at Princeton. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.