As student organizations begin selling T-shirts in preparation for The Game, the trusty words “Harvard Sucks, Princeton Doesn’t Matter” are again pushed to the forefront of the Yale lexicon. But while the old maxim may hold true 364 days of the year, to the men’s soccer team, whose postseason dreams are on the line this Saturday, their otherwise irrelevant counterparts from New Jersey could not matter more.
The No. 25 Bulldogs (9-3-4, 4-1-1 Ivy) travel to Princeton (6-7-3, 3-2-1) for the last game of the regular season in hopes of clinching a share of the Ivy title and bolstering their resume for the postseason.
The Elis are heading into the season finale two points behind Ivy co-leaders Brown and Dartmouth, who play on Saturday as well. The winner of that contest will be the outright Ivy champion. But a Brown-Dartmouth tie would open the door for the Bulldogs to earn a share of the league crown, their first since 1991, with a win over Princeton.
Even if all the pieces fall into place and Yale comes out of the weekend as co-Ivy Champion, Dartmouth will earn the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament due to head-to-head tiebreakers. But that does not mean the Bulldogs’ tournament hopes are dead in the water.
Last weekend’s emotional upset over Brown not only solidified a national ranking but also vaulted the Elis to No. 3 in the New England region, ahead of the Ivy co-leaders. A victory over a quality Princeton team would give the Bulldogs a crucial tenth win and secure at least second place in a highly competitive Ivy League that is rapidly gaining national respect. And despite the slip-up against Boston College last week, the Bulldogs performed well in a stacked non-conference schedule. All of this adds up to a strong argument for an NCAA at-large bid.
While happy with his team’s performance this season, Tompkins was quick to address the unpredictability of the selection process.
“We would like to put ourselves in the strongest possible position to get an at-large bid,” Tompkins said. “A potential to get a bid is enhanced by the win, but whether that will be enough to get over the top, that remains to be seen. It’s impossible to know where we stand relative to everywhere else.”
But defender Ryan Morrissey ’06 said that all the ifs, ands or buts are completely nullified if Yale falters in New Jersey.
“[The postseason speculation] should be the last thing on our minds,” Morrissey said. “Bottom line is we have to win and let everything else work itself out.”
While Yale may be favored heading into Saturday, the Bulldogs must battle the inherent challenges and difficulties of an Ivy road game. Yale knows this all too well after eking out a 1-0 victory against an overmatched but spirited Columbia squad in New York Oct. 29.
And playing postseason spoilers this time are not the Ivy doormat Lions, but the rising Tigers. After struggling through a difficult non-conference schedule, Princeton has rebounded with solid Ivy play and is unbeaten in its last four league games. The Tigers are led by reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Darren Spicer, whose playmaking abilities are an area of concern for Tompkins and the Bulldogs.
“Princeton is a very good attacking team,” Tompkins said. “[Spicer] is one of the fastest players in the league and is always a threat. We need to find a way to contain him.”
Forward Alex Munns ’07 said that not only can the defense stop the Tigers’ attack, but the Elis are more than able to setup their own scoring chances.
“They have offensive weapons that we need to be weary of,” Munns said. “But we’re looking for the guys in the back to continue their solid play. And there are certain areas we can exploit too. Princeton is a team we can absolutely get after.”
With everything on the line and emotions running high after upsetting Brown, Munns said the team has been able to shut everything out and focus on the main objective: getting a win.
“One thing this team does really well is that we are pretty level-headed in all of our endeavors,” Munns said. “We just have to take care of [Princeton] and hope for the best. [The postseason talk] gets to be distracting, you start wondering ‘what if’ and that’s just going to keep you from doing what you have to do.”