While the men’s soccer team showcases the Ivy League’s second-best offense, the Bulldog defense proved again on Saturday that any hope of an NCAA Tournament berth rests firmly on their shoulders.
The Elis’ (8-2-4, 3-1-1 Ivy) suffocating backfield paved the way to a 1-0 victory over Columbia (3-10, 0-4) in New York Saturday. Yale extended its unbeaten streak to three and pitched its third shutout in four games.
“Columbia is a better team than their record suggests, and I thought they made it very difficult for us [Saturday],” Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said. “I think they have a few really good individual players and we handled them very well. Overall, we were pleased with the win.”
While the Lions controlled much of the possession in the first half, it was the Bulldogs who were stringing dangerous attacks together. But not until there were four minutes left in the half did the Elis finally capitalize on one of those chances.
Forward Gage Hills ’07 received an inbound pass on the right side, turned upfield past his defender and found a streaking Alex Munns ’07 with a perfectly placed cross. Yale’s leading scorer handled the pass, took one touch and rifled it past Columbia goalie Alex Maffeo.
While Munns has been the lethal scorer all season, it has been Hills who has provided a sparkplug for the Eli offense the past few games. Munns, who notched his Ivy-best seventh goal of the season, said that Hills’ constant motor enabled the score against Columbia.
“His mobility has been really good, and he’s getting himself in good positions,” Munns said. “He’s always running against four people at once, which is a ridiculous amount of work. He makes things easier on the rest of us.”
One goal was all the defense would need, as they stifled the struggling Lions’ offense. Although the Lions outshot the Bulldogs, 15-14, most of those were desperation shots forced by the Eli backs. Defender Jordan Rieger ’07 said the key to the defensive success was a well-executed game-plan.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game, because it’s always tough to play at Columbia,” Rieger said. “We wanted to make sure we were really well organized because they have a formation that sends a lot of players forward.”
Goalkeeper Erik Geiger ’08 showed great command in the box, intercepting several key Columbia crosses and finishing with six saves.
Geiger, who sat out several games in the middle of the season to retool his technique, has come on strong the past few weeks. Rieger said success has never been a matter of ability with Geiger.
“Everyone knows he has the skills, it’s just a matter of him being focused and having confidence in himself,” Rieger said. “Every game he plays he’s just getting better and better. He feeds off our success and is just constantly maturing.”
While the offensive stars have been receiving the accolades, it has been the Bulldogs’ stellar defense that has kept them in the Ivy race. Along with Geiger, the backfield of Rieger, Jake Miller ’07, Jon Skalecki ’06 and Marcus Jackson ’09 has posted four shutouts in six games. The stingy defense has allowed just two goals in that six-game span, a span that has seen the Elis go 4-1-1.
Munns said each member of the defense brings unique skills to the table.
“Defensively, we have the two pillars in the back,” Munns said. “Jordan and Jake Miller possess great ball-winning ability. We have attacking-minded fullbacks. Marcus is always getting [the ball] forward really well and Jon has good throw-ins that start the attack.”
Rieger said good communication enables the unit to play cohesively and effectively.
“There’s a constant communication,” Rieger said. “It’s all business; we know what each of us has to do. There is no time in the game when none of us are talking.”
Tompkins said the Bulldogs’ backfield has grown formidable over the course of the season so far.
“The ability to defend is something that improves over time,” Tompkins said. “As the players become more comfortable, their effectiveness increases. They have a determined mentality to not give away easy chances.”
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