After winning last year’s Yale-Fila Soccer Classic and coming in first place again last week at the adidas/Brown Classic, the No. 22 men’s soccer team has the opportunity to extend its tournament-winning streak to three.
The Elis (2-0) return to New Haven to host the renamed Yale-Campus Customs Classic this weekend at the Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium, kicking it off with their home opener against Vanderbilt (1-4) Friday at 7:30 p.m. Yale faces off against Alabama A&M (4-1-1) Sunday at 2:30.
For the Bulldogs, playing two tournaments in a row to begin the season is beneficial because it presents a chance to face off against a variety of opponents with varying styles of play.
“The most important thing is — competing against the highest possible caliber of opposition,” said head coach Brian Tompkins, who earned his 150th and 151st career victories last weekend at the adidas/Brown Classic. “We’ve got Vanderbilt and Alabama A&M coming here, neither of which will be easy games and will bring us different types of tactical challenges.”
Last season, the Elis defeated Tulsa and, in a thrilling overtime victory, the University of Alabama-Birmingham to take the Yale Classic on their home turf. To repeat, the Elis will have to continue to produce offensively and in the goal.
Forward Justin Burton ’04 was named Player of the Week by both the Ivy League and the ECAC for his two-goal game against UNC, while forward Jay Alberts ’04 earned offensive MVP at Brown’s tournament.
On the other end of the field, goalie Geoff Hollington ’04, who was aided by a strong defensive corps that featured defensive MVP Brian Roberts ’04, recorded 10 saves on the weekend.
“Last weekend we played good defense as a team,” Hollington said. “We did a good job of communicating and getting North Carolina and Michigan out of their rhythm.”
Vanderbilt, which has gotten off to a subpar start this season, has dropped some heartbreakers. At their Vanderbilt-Puma Classic last weekend, the Commodores outshot Appalachian State 25-9 but ultimately lost the game 2-1 to drop to 1-4 on the season.
But, as the 25 shots shows, Vanderbilt has some offensive weapons in their arsenal, most of them returning players.
Nik DeMello, who tallied two game winning goals last season en route to becoming the team’s leading scorer, will provide a challenge for the Eli defense, while second-leading scorer Charlie White has the skills to do some damage.
Defensively, the Commodores are questionable. While co-captain Chris Yingling earned an All-MVC nod last season, Vanderbilt gave up three goals or more in six different games.
On a personal note, the game will be a reunion for Yale goalie Matt Aleksinas ’06 and his twin brother Marc, who plays defense for the Commodores.
Sunday’s game against Alabama A&M, whose team name is also the Bulldogs, will provide what could be a bigger challenge for Yale. Alabama opened its season by winning the Pops’ Drayer Classic with a 5-4 overtime win against Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.
From there, the ‘other’ Bulldogs have compiled a 4-1-1 record, outscoring their opponents 20-8. Their only loss came against Santa Clara University several days after a double overtime, last-minute 3-2 victory against San Jose State.
With a roster featuring 10 international players, Alabama has been ranked as high as No. 10 so far this season. Abdou Manneh and Eugene Sepuya have been brilliant offensively, combining for eight goals in their first four games.
Alabama splits time between two goaltenders, James Ssemambo and Andrew Jjombwe, who have held opponents scoreless twice this season, and they are protected by Andre Plummer, a hardnosed defender who earned the defensive MVP award at the Pops Drayer Classic.
Alabama A&M and Vanderbilt squared off earlier this season, with the Bulldogs coming out on top in an easy 3-0 victory.
Vandy and A&M will come and try to play, Hollington said. “But if we play like we did last weekend we should get a couple of good results.”
Brown University, who hosted last week’s tournament, will play at the Yale-Campus Customs Classic as well, but will not face the Elis until the Ivy League season.
For Yale, whose No. 21 ranking is its highest in the past two seasons, a pair of victories at the Yale-Campus Customs tournament would put the Bulldogs in an excellent position as they begin their Ivy schedule in a few weeks.
“We’re going to see a number of different styles of teams in varying degrees of ability in those few weeks,” Tompkins said. “We need to be very good at learning from our experiences, either positive or negative, to prepare us for the Ivy League because that’s obviously our focus.”