Considering the men’s soccer team is coming off a roller-coaster season and faces a daunting schedule this fall, it would make sense to assume that the Elis are a bit apprehensive going into this season. But so far, the Bulldogs are all smiles.

“I feel that the team is very optimistic about the season,” captain Shannon Brooks ’06 said. “The team has come together very well this preseason and the balance of newcomers and experienced guys has seemed to work well for [us] so far. I think that last year’s team definitely had some very good players on it, but this year we have a group of very tight knit players. We are all very anxious to get on the field and have some true competition..”

The Bulldogs, who lost their first six games last season, hope to avoid another early season pitfall with a strong start at Fairfield this Wednesday.

“We had a very difficult beginning of the season, but we turned it around midseason and even had a shot at the Ivy [Championship],” said forward Alex Munns ’07 said, who added that last year’s growing pains have resulted in a more cohesive, confident and mentally strong squad this year.

For a club that was dominated by star players last year, such as Andrew Dealy ’05 and Kansas City Wizard rookie Ryan Raybould ’05, the focus has shifted greatly towards a team mentality.

“To be successful last year we had to rely heavy contribution on two or three players,” head coach Brian Tompkins said. “But this year I feel to be successful we need everyone. There’s a greater sense of selflessness.”

Munns echoed his coach’s sentiments, pointing at the number of quality players ready and able to take charge this season.

“There’s more parity this year, more depth at all positions that we didn’t have last year,” Munns said. “We have players that can step on [the field] and maintain the level of play.”

Critical to this team-first battle cry is Brooks. The 5-foot-11 forward, who tied for the team lead in assists, embodies the experienced core of senior and junior leaders. Tompkins feels Brooks’ greatest asset his well-roundedness.

“He is exemplary in so many ways, I don’t think there is anybody who works harder, is more team focused,” Tompkins said. “He’s a tremendous athlete, a great leader. The guys like him, he’s well respected.”

But to confuse this team-oriented philosophy as a euphemism for a lack of talent would be a grave mistake. The Bulldogs return three of their top five scores from last year, including leading scorer Munns, who was named All-Ivy Honorable Mention as a sophomore. The Elis also welcome back their third leading scorer in Gage Hills ’07, promising midfielder Jordan Rieger ’07 and poised defenseman Ryan Morrissey ’06.

Tompkins sees the continual development of this core as central to Yale’s success.

“With the development of any college player, you hope they become more comfortable, more confident and creative as the years pass,” Tompkins said. “There’s a lot of experience in the junior and senior classes, [and] we really need those guys to play well and to show their maturity.”

One position battle to watch at the beginning of the season will be between goaltenders Matt Aleksinas ’06 and Dwayne Whylly ’08. Although much of the goaltending duties were split between the two and departed senior Geoff Hollington ’05, Tompkins hopes to cement a number one goalie by Wednesday.

Yet one thing is for sure. With a brutal schedule that includes perennial powerhouses Michigan State, American University and Boston College, the Bulldogs cannot afford to get off to a slow start. But as Tompkins explains, the difficulty of the schedule is not something that should be feared but rather embraced as a constant litmus test.

“My belief is that we should always be seeking to challenge ourselves against the highest level competition that we can,” Tompkins said. “I’d rather measure ourselves against the best. That’s what athletes want. It keeps us sharp and on our toes.”

And with a burgeoning sense of confidence and chemistry, the Bulldogs plan to keep their opponents on their own toes as well.

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