MEN’S SOCCER: The beginning of the end for Tompkins era

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Photo by Maria Zepeda.

When head coach Brian Tompkins took the helm of the Yale men’s soccer team in 1996, several of his incoming freshmen players had not been born yet. But after this season — his 19th as Yale’s head coach — Tompkins will step down from his role and transfer to the Athletic department’s administration office. His players will look to send him off on a high note.

“I’m approaching the upcoming season as a unique opportunity to reflect on my good fortune and gratitude at having been involved in the lives of so many terrific young people over the years and hope that I have given to them half as much as they have given me,” Tompkins said.

Tompkins enters the season just six wins shy of equaling former Yale men’s soccer head coach Steve Griggs’ school record 143 victories. A successful season for the Bulldogs could put the head coach alone at the top of the list.

The Elis’ 2013 record may not have done their overall performance justice — the team’s goal differential was only minus seven — but nevertheless, they must improve upon their 4–11–2 overall mark from last season.

“Given the potential our team has this year, it is very conceivable that we can make Coach Tompkins the winningest coach in school history,” said defender/midfielder Pablo Espinola ’16. “In fact, I think we owe it to him for all that he has done for us individually and this program as a whole.”

Ultimately, what matters more than the final 17-game record is Yale’s performance in the gauntlet that is conference play. After flirting with the top of the Ivy League table through the first few weekends of league competition last season, the Bulldogs sputtered to close with a 2–3–2 conference record and finished fifth in the Ancient Eight.

Several games last season showed the potential that the Bulldogs had, such as a thrilling, final-minute comeback victory over rival Harvard. It was games like that one that have Yale players thinking they can offer a storybook ending to Tompkins’ tenure.

“Based on the talent and potential I have seen thus far, I have no doubt we can be Ivy League Champs,” said captain and midfielder Conner Lachenbruch ’15, echoing the views of his teammates’.

Such a goal is possible if Yale is able to sure up some of its past weaknesses. First and foremost, the team must improve its offensive potency early in the season. Omitting the Bulldogs’ 4–1 trumping of Sacred Heart last September, Yale was outscored 11 goals to two in six games leading up to conference play.

It could prove difficult for the Bulldogs to enter Ivy competition with the confidence and momentum necessary for a title run if they put together a similarly lackluster non-conference résumé. As far as tactical improvements are concerned for the upcoming year, Yale has emphasized efforts to bolster its defensive execution.

The Bulldogs conceded three goals in each of their final four Ivy League matchups, washing away any opportunity to compete for the Ivy crown. Their 13 goals allowed in conference play were not only the most in the Ancient Eight, but they also effectively canceled out the Elis’ 11 goals scored, which was good for second-most in the League.

Yale’s last line of defense, goalkeeper Blake Brown ’15, said he is confident that such defensive play will not plague the Bulldogs this year.

“Defensive discipline is something we have worked on a lot last spring and this fall,” Brown said. “We have a great combination of veteran players and newcomers to our back line who will positively impact our play.”

Igniting the offense will be forward Cameron Kirdzik ’17 and midfielder Henos Musie ’16, who provided the boot behind the heroic free kick goal that catapulted Yale to victory over Harvard last year. Combined, Kirdzik and Musie found the back of the net seven times and accounted for 64 percent of the goals among returning players from last season.

Midfielder/forward Henry Albrecht ’17 will also be a key cog in the offensive machine, coming off a strong rookie campaign that saw the German native lead the team with four assists.

Beyond offensive and defensive metrics, the presence of a coach not named Tompkins may also prove to be a difference maker on this Yale squad.

Multiple players cited the arrival of recently announced assistant coach Olli Harder, originally of New Zealand, as a major boost to the team’s prospects. It is rare to experience such universal, outspoken clamoring of support by a team for a new assistant coach, but Harder’s hiring may prove to be a momentous decision.

“The most pleasant surprise this season has been the addition of [Harder],” Brown said. “His passion and knowledge of the game was well received and has made an immediate impact in the mindset of our team.”

The nerves that accompany the buildup to a hopeful season will finally be cast aside in favor of pure adrenaline tomorrow night, when the Bulldogs kick off their season at home.

Action is scheduled to begin at 5:00 p.m. in the friendly confines of Reese Stadium against Sacred Heart University (0–2, 0–0 Northeast Conference).

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