The men’s soccer team played its season opener against Fairfield University yesterday. But the Stags were already two games into the 2005 campaign — and it showed.

Suffering from first-game jitters, the Bulldogs were unable to hold onto an early lead and had to settle for a 1-1 tie in double overtime.

“This was more of a resilient and effective performance than a well-played game by us,” head coach Brian Tompkins said. “We competed hard and stuck with what we tried to do really well.”

Although the Elis (0-0-1) would have preferred a win in their season opener, a tie against a much improved Fairfield (1-1-1) squad that was playing its third game of the season, illustrated the mental toughness the Bulldogs had harped on in the preseason. And while they seemed to execute their game plan well, the Elis admit that nerves played a big role.

“We looked a little bit jumpy,” Tompkins said. “We’re still trying to get familiar with each other, find that cohesion. We were a little bit careless at times, but they are all correctable things.”

Just as the Bulldogs must become more familiar with each other, so too must Yale fans get familiar with a batch of players who made the most out of their first collegiate start. Most notable was goaltender Erik Geiger ’08, who finished with three saves, allowing a single goal to Fairfield forward Vasilis Androutsos in the 77th minute. Despite being the lone Yale goalkeeper without any collegiate experience, Geiger parlayed an impressive preseason into the starting job over Dwanye Whylly ’08 and Matt Aleksinas ’06. Geiger explained how the competitive position battle only pushed him to work harder.

“As our goalkeeper coach could tell you, I think we have the best core of goalkeepers in the Ivy League,” Geiger said. “When you come into fall knowing you’re facing that type of competition, then you know you have to work even harder. But you can’t put too much pressure on yourself to be the starter. You just have to go out there and show what you can do.”

Besides Geiger, there were two other fresh faces in the Bulldog starting lineup — midfielder Alex Guzinski ’09 and defender Markus Jackson ’09. Gavin Blades ’09, Lenord Liam ’09 and Jon Carlos ’09 all made their debuts as substitutes as well.

While he was admittedly anxious, Geiger said pregame words from Tompkins to the young players put the start into perspective.

“He said to us, ‘Don’t be afraid of the unknown, because we have a lot of known,'” Geiger said. “‘We know we have a lot of talent, we know we have good players, so you just have to trust yourself.”‘

Guzinski made his presence felt with an impressive goal off a free kick 25 yards out in the 32nd minute — a shot that Tompkins described as “one you might see in the professional leagues.”

Captain Shannon Brooks ’06 said the score did not come as much of a surprise to the Bulldogs.

“Coach said before the game that he thought [Guzinski] would get one, so we all really expected him to get one,” Brooks said. “He’s been showing that since the day he got here. It’s awesome that he was able to step up in his first game.”

The true standout performance last night came from the Eli defense. Led by Jordan Rieger ’07, Jon Skaleki ’06 and Jake Miller ’07, the Bulldog back line allowed only four shots on goal. Fairfield struggled all night to get into a good offensive rhythm. The lone goal came off of a loose ball in the Yale zone.

The Bulldogs hope to polish their play in their Sunday home opener against Providence College. The Friars, who finished last season without a single win, have opened this season with two wins and two ties. But coming off a game in which small mistakes cost the Bulldogs a potential win, Tompkins feels the teams’ focus should not stray too far from themselves.

“They are off to a good start; we definitely won’t take anything for granted,” Tompkins said. “But I think we need to focus more on our own game and worry less about them.”

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