Columbia forwards tried all day Saturday to cross the ball to Tommy McMenemy.
Then, with just two seconds remaining in regulation, captain Michael Ching finally did.
McMenemy’s goal broke the 2-2 tie and the Bulldog’s hearts as Columbia (7-5-1, 2-2-1 Ivy) dealt Yale (8-4-1, 1-3-1) an excruciating and hard-fought Ivy League loss at the Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium on Saturday.
“I was looking for that pass all game, but the Yale defenders kept blocking it,” McMenemy said. “When I finally saw it I knew what I wanted to do.”
The decisive goal came after Yale had tied the game at two and dominated with a number of extremely close offensive chances. Play was located in Columbia’s defensive end for nearly the entire second half.
But with about 10 seconds remaining in the game, the Lions found themselves with the ball in front of the Yale net, and Ching finally connected on the cross.
McMenemy’s shot from about 15 yards out on the left side hit the inside of the right goalpost and bounced back across and into the goal to give Columbia the 3-2 victory.
“That was one of the best games of soccer I’ve been in since I’ve played in the States,” said McMenemy, who lives in England.
And it was a well-played game, albeit with a sour finish for Eli players and fans.
Yale wasted no time in getting on the scoreboard when the team’s leading scorer Lindsey Williams ’05 scored an unassisted goal on a rebound just 42 seconds into the game.
“There was a series of misclearances, and I got to the loose ball and tucked it into the back of the net,” Williams said.
But midway through the first half McMenemy set up teammate Sekou Cox with a cross that Cox put past Yale keeper Geoff Hollington ’05 to tie the game 1-1.
“We were in control for the first 20 minutes and then started to play their style, which Coach Tompkins described as a ‘let’s play and hope something happens’ mentality instead of taking advantage of them when we had them on the run,” Williams said.
Four minutes into the second half, Columbia’s Craig Smart took a shot, and an open Jon Mycroft easily placed the rebound inside the right post to give the Lions a 2-1 lead.
“The goals were a result of poor clearing and technique caused by some defensive lapses,” defender Colin Stirrat ’03 said. “Execution in front of the net is our biggest problem right now. We are creating chances but not finishing.”
Immediately following the goal, Yale put a good deal of pressure on the Columbia defense. Williams, forward Justin Burton ’04 and midfielder Andrew Dealy ’05 nearly came right back to tie the game, but their efforts were in vain.
Finally, at 74:53, Yale’s persistent efforts paid off in a drive started by a fantastic behind-the-back pass from Dealy to Burton, who hit Williams on the left side. Williams crossed the ball to Jay Alberts ’04, who knocked in an acrobatic header to tie the game for the Bulldogs.
For the second game in a row, Williams scored a goal that was called back because of a very close offsides ruling. Against Penn, another crucial Williams goal was called back. Tompkins, who reviewed the game film, said he thought Williams was onside during the Penn play.
Before and after Alberts’ goal, Yale’s forward line penetrated Columbia’s defense frequently but failed to close out any opportunities.
And so the stage was set for Columbia to take the Bulldogs by surprise in the closing seconds, which McMenemy did.
“We didn’t take advantage of our early chances, and once again it came back to haunt us,” Tompkins said, referring to the similarities between the Columbia game and the Elis’ last game against Penn.
“I was getting them ready for overtime in mindset and subs,” said Columbia head coach Deiter Ficken, who called the game Columbia’s best of the season. “Yale was outstanding; their front line and [Brian Roberts ’05] were tearing us apart. I knew it would be a hard game, but I didn’t think it’d be this difficult.”
Roberts had a fantastic game, using his size and physical play to strip a number of Columbia players of the ball.
“He’s a great athlete with a great personality for his position,” Tompkins said. “He works hard offensively and defensively and gave us a very spirited performance today.”
Hollington finished with three saves for the Bulldogs, while Lions goalie Dean Arnaoutakis stymied Yale’s offense and came up with eight saves.
For the Bulldogs, the loss represents the second consecutive game where the team has been unable to capitalize on early opportunities.
“Finishing teams off has definitely been a problem,” Williams said. “We have found the net but not enough to win. We need to finish the last few games with wins to have a positive end of the season and to put behind these last two frustrating losses.”