The implications of Yale’s game against first place Brown are simple.
Lose or tie and the Elis’ title dreams are effectively dead. Win and Yale’s quest for its first Ivy championship in 14 years is alive for another week. But while the importance of this game is undeniable, the Bulldogs know the worst thing they can do is to get caught up in the hoopla.
“My approach is that the most important game of the season is the one you are about to play,” Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said. “We certainly understand the ramifications of the result but we have to focus on the game not the outcome.”
Yale (8-3-4, 3-1-1 Ivy) attempts to keep their slim Ivy title hopes alive when they host No. 18 Brown (10-3-1, 5-0) on Saturday. The Bulldogs must win the last two games of their season to have any chance of capturing the Ancient Eight crown.
The Bears come into New Haven undefeated in the Ivy League and unbeaten in their last eight games. Brown has simply been dominant not only in the standings but statistically speaking as well. The Bears are ranked number one in the Ancient Eight in points, goals, assists and goals allowed. But Yale is not far behind, placing second in points and goals, fourth in assists and third in goals allowed.
Tompkins said Brown’s greatest strength is its balance.
“They are a very consistent, well-coached, disciplined team,” he said. “They are difficult to break down defensively and they’ve got some explosive individuals on offense.”
Defender John Skalecki ’06 said while certainly talented, the Bears rely on sound game plans to succeed.
“Traditionally they tend to be athletic, but at the same time one of the better soccer playing teams,” Skalecki said. “A lot of college teams just kind of kick it and run, but they play a little more structured.”
The Elis must rebound physically and mentally from a disappointing double overtime defeat to Boston College on Tuesday. When a team suffers a devastating loss it is understandable for the ghosts of defeat to linger in the locker-room. But with just three days to prepare for the biggest game of the season, perhaps the biggest in recent program history, the Bulldogs know they have no time to look back and wonder what went wrong.
“Our mantra all season is don’t get too high when you win and don’t get too low when you lose,” Tompkins said. “College players can be easily distracted by emotions and all the ‘what if” questions. I try to get them to focus on what they have control of.”
As forward Josh Block ’07 explained, while the Bulldogs were not happy with the result, Tuesday’s game can also be a source of confidence for the Elis on Saturday.
“It was probably one of our best games of the season, so it was definitely heartbreaking,” Block said. “But if we maintain that same level of play this weekend we should do pretty well. We’re confident in our ability.”
Not only does this game determine Yale’s Ivy fate, but the fact that it is the Bulldogs’ home finale makes it all the more special. On top of that, it is time for the Elis to reflect on the importance of their seniors, who will be playing the last home game of their careers.
“This senior class has been tremendous, especially when some have not played as much as they hoped,” Tompkins said. “When the last home game comes around you start to realize that these guys are going to be missed. They’ve embodied a lot of what Yale soccer strives to be.”
Block said that the crowd has been a source of energy all season, and given all the implications, he expects it to be no different this weekend.
“The crowd is awesome, it is definitely a boost seeing the stands packed like that,” he said. “I hope we get a good crowd because it really helps us stay focused. It feels electric.”