There is an old sports cliche that goes “To be the best, you have to beat the best.”
Based on the men’s soccer team’s schedule this season, the Elis (0-2-0) seem to be taking that saying to heart.
In order to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid, the Bulldogs have lined up some formidable non-conference opponents, which will hopefully serve them well come selection time.
As it stands, the NCAA only awards one automatic bid to the Ivy League — to the league champions. So if the Bulldogs are unable to win the title, they hope their schedule will aid them in receiving an at-large bid. Strength of schedule is one of the many considerations that go into the NCAA selection committee’s decision to award at-large bids.
Last weekend, the Bulldogs dropped tough, one-goal decisions to the University of San Francisco and Clemson University at the Brown Classic but showed that they can hang with some of the elite programs in the nation.
However, this weekend does not get any easier, as Duquesne and Hartwick come to New Haven. These two teams had a combined record of 28-5-4 last year.
Duquesne tied for the Atlantic 10 title last year and finished the season ranked 25th in the nation. They were 14th in the country in goals against average as well, allowing just 0.71 per game.
They will be coming into New Haven tomorrow with a 2-2-0 record, with the two losses coming to tough Albany and Lafayette teams.
As for Hartwick, they climbed as high as No. 9 in the national polls last year before narrowly missing an NCAA bid with a 15-2-1 overall record. In their 48-year history as a program, the Hawks have made the NCAA tournament a staggering 22 times, actually winning the title back in 1977. Hartwick is undefeated so far this season, sporting a 2-0-2 record.
All of this may seem a little overwhelming for the Bulldogs, but they seem prepared for the tough weekend ahead. Defender Jon Skalecki ’06 said he knows playing the best teams, and beating them, will help the Elis’ chances at an NCAA tournament nod.
“It is very important that we have good results this weekend,” Skalecki said. “Although the upcoming two games do not mean anything to the Ivy season, they could be significant if the teams we beat is taken into consideration by the NCAA committee for an at-large bid.”
Skalecki will be a big part in keeping the Dukes and Hawks from scoring this weekend, anchoring the young Eli defense that has lost two of its starters from last year, including its leader, Brian Roberts ’04.
The offense will continue to be spearheaded by the one-two combination of Andrew Dealy ’05 and captain Ryan Raybould ’05. Dealy had a goal and an assist last weekend in Providence.
Defender Jake Miller ’07 will be another player to watch this weekend at Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium. The second-year player tallied a goal against Clemson at the Brown Classic and garnered All-Tournament Team honors as well.
Despite playing some of the best teams in the nation, however, the results will not mean much if the Bulldogs come out empty-handed once again this weekend.
Midfielder Shannon Brooks ’06, though, said he believes that the Bulldogs will have an advantage they did not have last weekend: their homefield.
“Playing at home will hopefully be a big boost for our team,” Brooks said. “We would like to make a statement this year by being very tough to beat at home and using the fact that we are home to our advantage.”
Forward Alex Munns ’07 said he enjoys the homefield advantage but half-jokingly admits that it does have its pitfalls.
“Nothing raises the intensity of a game like a raucous crowd,” Munns said. “That being said, it’s important to stay focused in front of any crowd. I love hearing [the Yale men’s swimming team] heckling the opposing players. But I know I’ve got a problem when I begin chanting with them and forget to play defense.”
The homefield advantage has helped at least one team already. The women’s soccer team benefited from a large crowd last weekend in downing national powerhouse University of Connecticut.
When asked if there were any added pressure to repeat the women’s team’s success on the home field, Skalecki said, “Not at all.”
And it’s a good thing, because with two highly-touted teams coming to town, the Bulldogs will undoubtedly have enough things to worry about.