“I wish I knew,” captain and midfielder Jordan Rieger ’07 said when asked why his team is not winning.
Midway through the Ivy League soccer season, the Elis are in seventh place in conference standings, a far cry from their first-place finish a year ago. With four games left to go this year, they have won only four games — last year, they won 10 during the season.
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Reiger said the team has been unlucky in key situations, which accounts for the difference between this year and last year.
“Last year, I think the biggest strength of our team was finding a way to win,” he said. “We just don’t find the breaks this year that we found last year. That’s been the biggest difference.”
Forward Alex Munns ’07 agreed with Rieger and said that the ball just has not been bouncing in the Elis’ favor in scoring situations.
“We have not been scoring ugly goals,” Munns said. “We’ve scored some very nice goals, but we’re not scoring the goals that are effort goals. We get ugly goals scored against us, but we’re not scoring them.”
The players also said that this year’s squad is taking a different tactical approach than that of last year’s team. The Bulldogs have changed their offensive strategies since last year, Rieger said.
“We’re attacking a little bit differently, our lineup shifts to benefit the strengths that the offense has,” he said. “It gives us another dynamic to the attack.”
The offense may be getting the ball, but the Elis have had a problem putting it in the back of the net. In 2005, the Bulldogs took 221 shots on goal and converted 27 of those attempts into goals. Compared to this year’s 161-17 shot-goal ratio, it is clear that the Elis have had trouble scoring.
“We move the ball well and we’ve got some very dangerous offensive players,” Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said. “But we’ve had some misfortune with the injury to [forward] Gage Hills [’07] and we’ve had problems with consistency, with our possession and in creating chances.”
The Elis also are giving up too many goals, since the defense has not been efficient against corner kicks or set pieces. Of the goals scored against Yale, most have come on corner kicks, the so-called ugly goals. The Bulldogs have given up just one goal outside of the 18-yard box, Munns said.
Both Munns and Rieger mentioned lapses in concentration during games. The players said that those moments have cost the Bulldogs several wins.
“[We need more] concentration in individual situations and in game management situations in how the team defends and attacks,” Rieger said.
Tompkins said the mental lapses have been one of the team’s weaknesses so far this season.
“A lot of our difficulties this year have come down to concentration,” he said. “It’s the small moments of lack of concentration and execution that have created problems for us.”
Even if the Elis’ scores do not show it, they are executing certain aspects of the game well. The Bulldogs’ leadership is a key to the team dynamic, and the communication between the players and coaches has improved since last year. The Bulldogs also have a strong desire to win and they have not given up.
Rieger said that the team’s eight seniors bring valuable knowledge to the younger players.
“Our senior class is two times the size of last year’s class,” he said, “There are more ways for the younger guys to turn to the upperclassmen. It’s more than just positions, it’s that different personalities respond to different leadership.”
Yale returned nine starters from last year’s Ivy championship team, and four of last year’s top goal scorers came back for the 2006 season, Munns said. At the beginning of the season, the notable leadership and the amount of experience on the team looked like a recipe for success.
“Our seniors have great character,” Tompkins said. “They are very competitive and they are great examples for our younger players. When things have been difficult, they have helped the guys persevere.”
The team’s cohesiveness and willingness to talk have helped them to pull through the losses, Rieger said.
“We didn’t have a lot of difficult times last year but there were still times during games that we really questioned what we were doing,” he said. “[This year] the guys come together after the games to talk about what we need to change.”
Even though the Elis have lost eight of 13 games this year, they have a never-say-die attitude that keeps their spirits up. Rieger said the team’s strength lies in its work ethic and desire.
“The biggest strength is the desire to work hard,” he said. “We’ve struggled through a couple of games this season, but it’s impressive to see guys working their tails off in those games.”
Even considering the positive aspects of the team’s play, the Elis still do not know how to turn their season around. Rieger said he was unable to figure out what the team needs to do.
“We have such talented players, we have the desire to win, we just aren’t putting it together,” he said. “I wish I had the answer.”
Tompkins said the controllable elements of the team’s game — their possession, ball control and offensive presence — can be improved.
“The things we can control are things like those game-changing moments where perhaps there’s a lapse in concentration,” Tompkins said. “Those are the things we wish we could do over but we have to just learn and move on.”
Last year the Bulldogs were able to win an Ancient Eight championship when no one expected them to, Munns said. This year, all the elements for success are there, but the Elis have been unable to deliver.
“We have very high standards in terms of our preparation and performance, and those standards have not changed,” Tompkins said. “I think we’ve just caught a few bad breaks.