When the men’s soccer team takes the field against No. 11 Brown tomorrow at Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium, the Bulldogs will not be the favorites.
They wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It could not be a better scenario for us,” Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said. “We relish in the role of underdog. It helps you focus. Being an underdog helps you keeps thing in perspective and concentrate your energy and intensity. It enables you to feel more comfortable.”
Tomorrow’s game, which features the Ivy League’s top two teams, will likely decide this year’s conference champion.
“It’s the biggest game of the year,” midfielder Ryan Raybould ’05 said. “We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Yale (9-6, 4-1 Ivy), currently in second place in Ancient Eight standings behind the first place Bears, has had a topsy-turvy season. After starting the season 1-3, the Bulldogs put together a five-game winning streak. They have since split their last six decisions.
Meanwhile, Brown (9-3-1, 5-0) comes into tomorrow’s game having won its last three games in what has been a remarkable turnaround season. The Bears are 5-0 in Ivy League play, an improvement — to say the least — on last year’s 1-4-2 conference mark.
Over the course of the season, the Bears have also notched impressive nonconference victories against No. 19 Creighton and 2002 NCAA College Cup runner-up Stanford.
“We certainly know what we’re up against,” Tompkins said. “Brown is a team that has had a lot of success and has a lot of confidence.”
Tompkins said he anticipates a tough, hard-nosed game tomorrow.
“Brown is extremely fit,” Tompkins said. “We have to neutralize their offensive speed and try to use our speed and mobility.”
Fitness was key last weekend in Yale’s overtime win over Columbia — a game in which the Bulldogs were not favorites either. The Bulldogs simply were able to outlast the Lions.
“We got stronger as the game went on,” Tompkins said. “We were able to wear them down.”
Tompkins said stamina and strength may decide the outcome of Saturday’s game as well.
Also sure to be figuring into the picture are Yale’s Matt Aleksinas ’06 and Brown’s Chris Gomez, two of the top goaltenders in the conference. Between them, Aleksinas and Gomez have recorded 12 shutouts this season. Gomez alone has allowed one goal in five Ivy League games.
Nevertheless, Tompkins said Brown’s strength rests not in any individual, but in the team as a whole.
“It’s the collective effort that makes them so good,” Tompkins said. “We’re a lot like that. That’s the case for teams that win the Ivy League. Like us, they’re nameless and faceless for the most part. There have been players that have stepped up, but in general, it hasn’t been about the individual.”
The Bulldogs’ inspiring outing against Columbia had come days after arguably their most shameful performance of the season.
On Oct. 29 against Central Connecticut, Yale held a 2-0 lead with 10 minutes remaining in regulation. But the Blue Devils managed to score three goals, including the game-winner in the 89th minute, to pull off the 3-2 upset.
It was a game the Bulldogs were supposed to win. They were the favorites. That will not be the case tomorrow.
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