While some teams choose to ease into their seasons with fairly harmless opening games, the men’s soccer team has opted to be jolted into reality.
The Bulldogs will travel to Providence, R.I. this weekend to face the University of North Carolina, who has no less than last season’s national championship on its resume.
The game will be the first of two for the Bulldogs at the annual Brown-Adidas Classic. Yale will take on Michigan Saturday.
The cards may seem stacked against the Elis for Friday’s game. Last season, UNC was one of only two teams to score two goals against Indiana, when they defeated the Hoosiers, 2-0, to capture the national title.
To up the ante, the Tarheels are coming off a dreadful 1-0 home loss to Davidson and a subsequent drop from No. 2 to as low as No. 13 in the rankings, and will no doubt be fired up to face the Bulldogs.
“In soccer you can play very destructive and win the game.” said Tarheels coach Elmar Bolowich. “That was the case with Davidson. We need to capitalize on our chances.”
But those on the Yale roster are convinced they can take UNC by surprise this weekend. Three seasons ago, the Bulldogs opened their season by shocking defending champion Indiana, 2-1.
“That is the beauty of the underdog, nobody nationally really expects us to win, but we know we can,” said captain Stu Yingst ’03. “In college sports anybody can beat anybody else on any given day.”
Bolowich noted that despite his team’s success last season, they are approaching their games this year without the national championship in mind — yet.
“We are not thinking about repeating as champs right now,” Bolowich said. “We want to focus on our next opponent and play well. That won us games last year.”
The Tarheels will be without forward David Testo, who was suspended by Bolowich following an altercation on the Chapel Hill campus after which Testo was charged with assault. Last season, the senior started 24 of the team’s 25 games, scoring 11 goals and recording six assists.
Ryan Kneipper, on the other hand, will be in the starting lineup and will provide a huge challenge for the Eli backfield.
Named the NCAA College Cup Offensive MVP last season after he scored the game-winning goal in the finals, Kneipper led the Tarheels in scoring with 14 goals, four of which were game-winners.
“We have to pay attention to the fact that they are athletic and fast,” head coach Brian Tompkins said of UNC. “We also have to make sure we get good matchups in certain parts of the field defensively.”
The Yale defenders, led by Brian Roberts ’04, will also have their hands full with 2001 ACC Rookie of the Year Marcus Storey, who contributed 26 points in his rookie campaign.
“The keys to success this weekend will be to play strong, solid team defense and capitalize on our opportunities on the offensive end,” said forward Jay Alberts ’04.
If there is a weak spot for the Tarheels this year, it is their defense, as the entire backfield corps minus one was lost to graduation. That one player, however, is NCAA College Cup Defensive MVP David Stokes, who effectively shut down some of the top scorers in college soccer last year and will likely be marking Alberts this weekend.
Tompkins noted that in order for the Elis to be successful against the Tarheels, they have to take full advantage of all possessions.
“When we have the ball, we need to play to our strength, which is largely our speed,” Tompkins said.
On Saturday, the Elis play Michigan in the second game of the Classic, which was cancelled last year due to the events of Sept. 11.
While the Wolverines’ soccer program is only in its third varsity year, Tompkins stressed the importance of taking the game seriously.
“They have some excellent players, and they’re a team capable of beating anyone on any given day,” he said. “They’re learning fast, and a team not to be underestimated.”
Michigan head coach Steve Burns noted that he is increasingly pleased with the collection of players on his team.
“We now have enough talent, depth, upperclassman leadership, strength, tactical understanding, and grit to compete with the best teams in the country,” he said.
The Wolverine’s freshman recruiting class was recently named the 27th top class in the country by College Soccer News, and they arrive in time to complement some more established older players.
Sophomore forward Knox Cameron was just named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after amassing two goals and three assists in two games. In addition, Mychal Turpin has had scoring success this season, helping drive the Wolverines to several blowout victories.
Because Michigan is young and starts seven underclassmen, Yale will have the opportunity to use its experience in big games against the Wolverines.
Forward Justin Burton ’04 said that this week’s practices have gone well in preparation for the weekend.
“We’ve been practicing hard for the past couple of weeks, trying to get comfortable with one another and our style of play,” he said.
Brown will also compete against UNC and Michigan this weekend, but will not take on Ivy opponent Yale until Nov. 9.
Burns said that part of Michigan’s decision to travel to Providence was based on the strength of the Ivy League.
“The Ivy League is a strong soccer conference with Brown and Yale being two of the perenially stronger teams in the Ivy’s,” Burns said. “Anytime you have two strong conferences playing each other, it goes a long way into determining bragging rights at the end of the season.”
For the Bulldogs, no bragging rights would be sweeter than victory over the reigning national champion Tarheels. Yingst looked forward to being able to make that claim — for the second time.
“Friday the 13th will hopefully be our day to take down the national champs just like we did my freshman year against Indiana,” he said.