It’s the final game of the regular season for the men’s soccer team, but the Elis are hoping this weekend’s finale won’t be their last.
Still questing after an NCAA Tournament bid, the Bulldogs (9-5-1, 2-3-1 Ivy) have one more chance to prove themselves when they close out their regular season at home against Princeton (3-8-5, 1-3-2) Saturday.
“We need to score first and force them to play an attacking style on the road,” midfielder Andrew Dealy ’05 said. “We’ll worry about the tournament after the game.”
Coming off their fourth one-goal loss of the season to No. 14 Boston College on Wednesday, the Bulldogs still have an outside chance of grabbing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament by defeating Princeton.
If that weren’t enough, the Elis have still more to play for. A win would give Yale 10 regular season victories for the sixth time since head coach Brian Tompkins took over. Prior to Tompkins’ arrival, the Bulldogs had reached that plateau only six times in 87 years.
Yale is currently tied for third with Holy Cross in their New England regional ranking, behind Connecticut and BC. Tompkins said the University of Massachusetts, which is now in fourth place, is Yale’s prime competition for an at-large bid. The outcome of Massachusetts’ weekend Atlantic-10 tournament, in which the Minutemen are seeded first, could be a factor in Yale’s chances.
As conference winner, Pennsylvania will receive the automatic bid for the Ivy League. The remaining entrants in the field of 48 are given at-large bids.
“The only chance we have [to make the tournament] is if we win this weekend and that’s what I’m being led to believe,” Tompkins said.
To do so, the Bulldogs will have to break their habit of dominating games but falling short on the scoreboard. Tuesday against Boston College, Yale outshot the Eagles 21-6 but, unable to capitalize on their scoring opportunities, the Elis fell 2-1.
“To win this weekend we have to finish our chances early,” said forward Jay Alberts ’04, who is second on the team in scoring. “When we have the other team on the ropes we have to put them away.”
Alberts is among a number of Elis who have compiled quality scoring opportunities. Forwards Lindsey Williams ’05, who leads all scorers, and Justin Burton ’04 have had good shots on goal. Midfielders Dealy and Ryan Raybould ’05 have also been offensive threats.
“I don’t necessarily think that we’ve had problems in these one-goal losses,” Dealy said. “We have played well enough to win but we have had lapses, both defensively and offensively, that have cost us games.”
The Tigers, whose strength is on defense, will be a challenge for the Bulldogs.
“They’re a good team, they’ve got a lot of talent,” Tompkins said. “They’ve got a lot of young guys so they’ve just had some bad luck.”
Because of the graduation of a number of their best players, the Tigers have had a subpar season this year after winning the Ivy League title in 2001. But Princeton is coming off a 0-0 tie with Penn, which had been 5-0 in the Ancient Eight prior to that.
“We’ve had a very frustrating season in terms of getting results, but the last few weeks I think we’ve played some good soccer and have continued to improve,” Princeton head coach Jim Barlow said. “I think that the strength of our team has been in the back.”
Defenders Jeff Hare and Bobby Nye have been a consistent force in the backfield for the Tigers this year, meaning that Yale will have to concentrate even harder on making the most of their opportunities.
“There is no reason to panic with the type of team that we have, so I would say that we continue to play our game and the goal will eventually come,” Raybould said. “They have a few good backs on defense, so it will be important that we play the ball in front of them utilizing our speed.”
The Elis have a lot to play for, but a victory against the Tigers will certainly make for a satisfying finale to what has been a strong season — and hopefully will mean that there will be more games in the team’s future.
“Simply put, we’re going to focus on trying to finish our chances because we’ve played well the last month and haven’t always gotten what we’ve deserved as far as getting goals,” Tompkins said. “That’s going to be our focus — to play well but also obviously to play well enough to win the game.”
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