Good fortune came too late for the men’s soccer team. After losing six in a row, they won three games straight to close out the 2006 season.
Yale (7-9-1, 3-4 Ivy) beat Brown (10-4-3, 3-2-2), 1-0, Friday in a nationally televised game that was the season finale for both teams. Despite high expectations for the season following last year’s title run, the Elis finished with a losing record and a fifth-place position in Ivy League standings.
At the beginning of the season, the Bulldogs were expected to pull off a second league championship and earn a repeat NCAA College Cup showing. But the Elis could not put their game together in the first half of Ancient Eight play, solidifying their place at the bottom of the league early on. A late surge that finally showed what the Bulldogs could do on the field allowed the team to conclude the season with a three-game win streak, propelling Yale from seventh to fifth in the Ivy League in just three weeks.
“We’ve just applied ourselves better. Our tactical discipline was very good against Penn,” Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said. “In the Columbia game, when we needed to dig down and come back, we were able to get the goals to do that, and in this game [against Brown], the focus and determination of the team was excellent. There were no letdowns, and their concentration was good.”
Against the Bears this past weekend, the Elis’ goal was just to play well, win or lose, in their last game of 2006, goalkeeper Erik Geiger ’08 said. Both teams came out strong Friday in an even matchup — Yale totaled 12 shots, and Brown had 10.
Forward Alex Munns ’07 scored the only goal off a cross from defender Max Rhodes ’09. Rhodes got the ball on the left side and beat the Bears’ defender, drawing the center defender who was marking Munns to the outside of the field. Munns took a couple of steps inside the 18-yard box and headed the cross into back of the net.
“To score not only in the last game of the season, but against Brown and to score on national TV was a euphoric experience,” Munns said.
Even before the goal was posted, the Elis took control of the first half. They were playing the ball from the defense up to the forwards, who combined well with the midfield, giving them more offensive opportunities. The defense was also strong, allowing Brown just two shots in the entire half.
After the Munns goal, the Bulldogs just wanted to finish the half ahead 1-0, captain and defender Jordan Rieger ’07 said. All season long, the Elis have conceded goals with the clock running down that tie the game or allow their opponent to pull ahead. In the game against Columbia, Yale allowed a goal with less than a minute to play in the half, letting Columbia knot the score at two. Against Brown, the Bulldogs were able to finish the half unscathed.
“When we went to the locker room, we were all expecting Brown to come out with double their intensity and throw everything they had at us [in the second half],” Rieger said.
As Rieger predicted, the second half saw a change in play. The Elis sat back to play against the counter-attack, instead of pressuring the Bears offensively. Tompkins said the Bulldogs had a hard time falling into a rhythm with their passing. The Bears fired eight shots on goal and tallied five corner kicks. Geiger made an impressive five saves, two off of one corner kick, and Brown keeper Jarrett Leech stopped four shots.
The Eli defense, which has struggled in defending set pieces, effectively blocked seven Bear corners. Geiger said the defense played as well as it has all season this Friday.
“This is one game where the defense played up to its potential more than any other game,” he said. “People put a up a lot more individual responsibility on corner kicks. We all defended really hard, really tough and really well.”
The past four matches for the Elis have turned the season around. Their play came together during the last few games, but their style did not change drastically, Rieger said.
Before they faced off against Penn on Oct. 21, the Bulldogs held a team meeting to assess what they had left to play for. Geiger said the consensus was to play to prove to themselves that the team was better than its record and to play for the seniors. The match against Brown highlighted that mentality and provided a picture of Ancient Eight soccer as a whole, Tompkins said.
“The game on Friday was a showcase game for the Ivy League as a whole,” he said. “It was an exciting game, and it was well played. I’m so glad we were a part of it, and I’m especially glad we won it.”
The silver lining to the Elis’ fifth-place standing is that the team learned valuable lessons this year that it will not have to learn again next year, Munns said. The Bulldogs learned how to lose this season, but they also found that they could overcome their losses and rely on each other to win games. The returning players will be better off for that experience this year, Tompkins said.
In a year that did not begin the way the Elis wanted it to, the team capped the 2006 campaign with a win against Brown highlighted by solid performances by all players.
“We had a great group of guys,” Geiger said. “I’ll remember this season more for how it ended.”