To understand the importance of injured captain Shannon Brooks ’06 to the men’s soccer team, one need look no further than freshman Liam Leonard’s post-goal celebration Wednesday night against FDU. After tying the game in the second half, Leonard — who filled in for the injured star — immediately rushed to the sideline to celebrate with his fallen teammate.

As they open up Ivy League play Saturday at home against nemesis Harvard (4-1-1), the Bulldogs (3-1-3) must prepare for life without their star forward. Brooks is out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL sustained in last Sunday’s game against Drake.

“Anytime you lose a great leader and athlete like Shannon, it’s going to take some time to adjust,” head coach Brian Tompkins said. “We’re going to miss his presence and leadership on the field, so the other guys need to compensate. It’s as much of a mental blow as you let it be. He’s a key player but the strength of our team is the group.”

After playing at defender for the past two seasons, Brooks switched to his natural forward position and wasted no time in showing his offensive prowess. In the six games before the injury, Brooks scored two goals and notched two assists, good for second on the team in points (6). Brooks was also named Tournament MVP of the Yale Classic and earned Ivy League Player of the Week honors for the third week of September. Forward Alex Munns ’07 expressed great disappointment about Brooks’ lost season.

“It’s the last guy you want this to happen to,” Munns said. “If there ever is a worst-case scenario, this is it. I really feel sorry for him. He’s always been a servant for the team and this season was going to be his time to shine.”

Leonard said that while Brooks’ absence on the field will be felt, his presence is enduring.

“Even when he’s on the sideline he’s still our leader,” Leonard said. “He is always supportive of us and is motivational. So now we need to do whatever we can to support him in his situation.”

Forward Josh Block ’07 explained that the unfortunate injury reminds everyone just how fragile one’s career can be.

“He really has such a passion for the game and we know how much he was looking forward to taking hold of this season,” Block said. “Coach told us before the game [against FDU] to make the most of every opportunity we have. And as bad as we all feel for Shannon, I hope this makes us realize we have to work harder, to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us.”

The Bulldogs have a perfect opportunity to make an Ivy League statement in the team’s league opener against the Crimson. Other than the obvious historical implications of this match up, the game takes on a more immediate importance given that both teams figure to be top Ivy League contenders. All this should make for an electric atmosphere Saturday night at Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium.

After losing the first game of the season to Vermont, Harvard is unbeaten in its last five games, including a current three-game win streak. The Crimson is led by star junior forward Charles Altchek who has averaged a goal per game this season. Tompkins explained that the well-coached and athletic Harvard team poses a difficult challenge, but just like with any other opponent, the Bulldogs will look to exploit whatever advantages unfold during the game.

A classic rivalry game is the perfect way to open up what figures to be a tight Ivy League race. While last year’s champion Dartmouth sailed through with an undefeated record, Brown, Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Penn all finished within a half-game of each other. Though he expressed satisfaction with the team’s non-conference performance, defender James Stewart ’07 understands that the real test begins tomorrow.

“We’ve done pretty well so far and have established a good rhythm as a team,” Stewart said. “But the Ivies are what’s important. We’re encouraged with our start, but we feel like we’re starting from scratch. Harvard is always tough and hopefully we’ll get a big fan base to come out.”

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