In the men’s soccer team’s last game before beginning Ivy League play, the Elis evened their record yesterday with a 2-1 comeback victory against No. 17 Fairleigh Dickinson in Teaneck, N.J.
Forward Gage Hills ’07 scored on a penalty kick in the 87th minute to squeak out the victory for the Bulldogs (3-3-1), who had been without a win in their last four games. The win against the FDU Knights (3-3-2) marks a big victory for the Elis before they take on Princeton Saturday in New Haven in their first Ivy League matchup.
The Knights, who topped the Bulldogs 2-1 on an overtime penalty kick last September, jumped out in front with a goal from Jorge Blacido off a tap pass 37 minutes into the first half. But after a scoreless stretch of more than 45 minutes, the Elis caught a break in the 83rd minute. Defender James Stewart ’07 angled a free kick into the box in front of the FDU net, quickly forcing Knights defenders to move back toward the goal.
The kick deflected off one of the defenders and dropped into the Knights’ own goal to deadlock the game, 1-1. It was just the luck the Elis needed.
“That was the watershed moment for us,” star forward Alex Munns ’07 said. “That was all we needed to turn the momentum around.”
With the score now tied and FDU suddenly stumbling, Hills took a pass up the line on the right side of the field from newcomer Justin Song ’10, a midfielder. After shaking by the one defender in his path, Hills was fouled in the corner of the box, setting up the senior goal-scoring threat for a penalty kick.
“With three minutes left, I just wanted to bury the goal,” Hills said. “I didn’t really think about it too much. I just saw the lower right corner of the goal and put it there.”
The Elis held on to the lead, notching their third win. Goalkeeper Dwayne Whylly ’08, who had missed practice time with his Yale teammates while playing for the Bahamas National Team in the Gold Cup this fall, saw his first action of the season in a scheduled start, coming up with three saves. Erik Geiger ’08, the team’s primary keeper last season, had started the Elis’ previous six games this year.
“It was very exciting,” Whylly said. “It feels good to be starting for our team.”
Yale head coach Brian Tompkins, who praised Geiger’s play thus far on Wednesday night, said no decision has been made regarding who will start in goal against Princeton on Saturday.
“We’ll make that decision later in the week,” he said.
The victory was a crucial one. The Bulldogs, who were shut out 3-0 by Creighton Sunday and escaped with a tie against Drake on Friday, had not won since their 3-2 win over Boston College on Sept. 5, a drought of more than two weeks.
“This is exactly what we needed to turn ourselves around from a disappointing weekend and get some momentum going into Ivy League play,” Munns said.
Tompkins said the biggest challenge facing the Bulldogs at the moment is simply the fatigue from their weekend tour through the Midwest. Still, he said the team defended well and is improving but still needs to work on creating goal-scoring chances.
“Today’s game we had several guys who I think were still feeling the after effects of the weekend,” Tompkins said. “Our execution wasn’t quite as sharp as it could have been, so mostly what we’re working on is just recovery from [the weekend’s games].”
But despite the impressive surge to come from behind against the nationally-ranked Knights, the Elis said they are not yet playing in full form.
“There have been glimmers,” Munns said. “There have been 20-minute spans where we have been all over teams, but we haven’t put together a full 90 minutes, and that’s going to be our goal this weekend.”
Wednesday’s win tells the story. After struggling to gain traction for most of the game, the Bulldogs scored two goals in four minutes to go on top. Consistency, Hills said, is something the team needs to work on. Against Creighton, for instance, the Elis allowed three goals in the first 12 minutes of the second half, creating a deficit that was too much to overcome.
“We’ve played well for the majority of the games, but we’ve had mental lapses,” he said.
And that won’t bode well for the team in Ivy League play.
“Everything steps up a notch going into the Ivy League,” Hills said. “The games are a lot tougher.”