One would think that the best way for the men’s soccer team to rebound from its tough loss to Dartmouth is to play perennial Ivy League basement-dweller Cornell. The only problem is that this year, the Big Red is no doormat.
The Bulldogs (5-2-3, 1-1 Ivy) strive to notch their second Ivy win of the season in New Haven on Sunday against a surprising Cornell (3-4-2, 2-0) team. Frustrated with the weather that postponed Wednesday’s game against Boston College, Alex Munns ’07, Erik Geiger ’08 and the rest of the Bulldogs hope for more favorable conditions this weekend.
The story of this weekend’s game is a battle between two teams on the rise. Both squads have responded to disappointing seasons last year by turning Ivy heads this time around.
“Their start has been surprising, and beating them is going to really help us in the standings,” forward Josh Block ’07 said. “But just like all Ivy games, you have to go in there, respect everybody, and not take anything for granted.”
Despite its recent setback against reigning champion Dartmouth, the Bulldogs are still light-years ahead of the Elis who started last season 2-8. Cornell has been an even bigger surprise. After struggling through their non-conference schedule, the Big Red – winless in conference play last year – is off to a quick 2-0 start in the Ivies. The highlight of the early season was undoubtedly their stunning Oct. 1 upset over then-No.18 UPenn, 2-1, in Philadelphia.
Cornell is led by senior midfielder Kuda Wukwete. Wukwete, who has four goals, has come up big in key situations. After scoring on the Quakers, Wukwete put on an encore performance at home against Harvard the following week. The game looked to be heading into overtime until Wukwete banged in the game-winning goal with just 37 seconds left in regulation.
But while the Big Red ride a wave of momentum into Sunday’s showdown, the Bulldogs are still licking the wounds from a tough loss last Saturday against Dartmouth. Although the defense held the potent Big Green attack to one score, the offense sputtered and struggled to establish consistent attacks. As midfielder Tyler Guse ’09 explained, the Bulldogs have geared their practices this week to address the offensive troubles.
“Our defense is pretty solid, so we’ve been focusing on offense a little more,” Guse said. “We’re just working on creating more opportunities, and trying to be in the right areas.”
The Bulldogs found themselves behind early last week and were unable to stage a comeback in unfavorable weather conditions. Even though the game was pushed back to Sunday to avoid Saturday’s rainfall, field conditions still might be a concern. Block said it is important not to be tentative in slippery conditions.
“Before the Dartmouth game, [Yale head] coach [Brian Tompkins] told us to make sure we still played soccer and not just kick the ball around,” Block said. “We just need to roll our sleeves up and battle.”
Guse said the Bulldogs must execute their game plan regardless of the weather.
“We haven’t been working on anything specifically for the weather,” Guse said. “We like to play on the ground and it’s hard to get away from that just because it might be raining.”
Still, this is shaping up to be a close game between two improved programs. More importantly, the game might reveal which of these teams will be a legitimate Ivy contender and which will be exposed as an early-season pretender.
“We’re still alive, we just need to win out,” Jon Carlos ’09 said. “But we can beat any [Ivy] team on any given day, so it can be done.”