Listening to men’s soccer Head Coach Brian Tompkins talk about the upcoming season, it would be easy to mistake him for a therapist.

“The first weekend is about self-discovery,” Tompkins said. “We’re going to learn a lot about ourselves.”

Yale opens its regular season this weekend when it travels to Providence, R.I. for the annual Brown Classic. By Tompkins’ estimation, it is sure to be an enlightening few days.

“We think we’ve got a pretty good team,” he said. “After this weekend, we’ll know the reality.”

Yale has historically performed well at the Brown Classic. In two of the past four years, the Bulldogs have knocked off the defending NCAA champion in the tournament, though this year they will have to settle with a chance to defeat the runner-up.

On Sunday, Yale plays nationally-ranked No. 19 Stanford (1-1), which lost to UCLA in the finals of the 2002 College Cup. But first the Bulldogs will have to contend with Wisconsin (2-3), a dangerous and up-and-coming team out of the Big 10.

“Wisconsin is young and inexperienced,” Tompkins said. “But they play in a conference with a high level of competition.”

The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are hardly short on experience. Despite losing several players to graduation, they return their top five goal scorers, including forward Lindsey Williams ’05–the conference’s reigning points leader–as well as defender Jon Skalecki ’05, who sat out last season with a torn ACL.

Midfielders Jay Alberts ’04, Andrew Dealy ’05 and Ryan Raybould ’05 are also back, as is three-time all-Ivy selection and this year’s captain Brian Roberts ’04.

“We lost some [players] who had been the backbone of the team, but the guys that are returning are ready to take over and make this team their own,” Tompkins said.

Yale also welcomes a talented rookie class, led by forwards Gage Hills ’07 and Alex Munns ’07, who competed as teammates in the finals of the 2002 Under-18 Nationals tournament.

“It was a lot easier to come in with someone I knew,” Hills said. “We’re both transitioning well and are looking to make an immediate impact.”

Tompkins said the freshmen add tremendous depth to the roster and will likely figure into the starting lineup. But he added that the true tests of their potential will not come until later into the season.

“Talent-wise, we’ve helped ourselves,” Tompkins said. “What we can’t predict are situation things–how we do on the road against Ivy League teams. But we’re as well-prepared as ever.”

Preparation might not be enough Sunday. The Bulldogs will have to be near-perfect to stay with the Cardinal.

“Stanford is one of the better teams in the country,” Tompkins said. “We’ve got to take care of tactical details or else Sunday will be a long day.”

The Bulldogs will rely on their offense and hope to take advantage of a reeling Stanford team that is coming off a 1-0 upset loss to Old Dominion.

Although Tompkins said he hopes to come away with a pair of wins this weekend, he stressed the importance of preparing for the in-conference schedule.

“It’s always the goal for any Yale soccer team to win the Ivies,” Tompkins said.

But if the Bulldogs are to entertain thoughts of an Ivy League championship and an NCAA tournament berth, they will first have to improve on last year’s sixth place finish in the Ancient Eight standings.

“We definitely didn’t fare as well as we should have,” Tompkins said. “We relinquished some leads and lost some games that were ours to win. We’ve learned from experience and mistakes and we’re going to try to make things right.”