The men’s soccer team, which finished sixth in 2006, may be well served by a youth movement, as seven freshmen step up to replace eight former seniors.

Building on the lasting foundation left by the Class of 2007, the Bulldogs may find the right combination of leadership and fresh ability. With the influx of talented new footballers, the squad’s traditional reliance on a small number of key players will be replaced with a more cohesive group effort, captain and goalkeeper Erik Geiger ’08 said.

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“Every team has its own personality and its own distinct feel,” Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said. “The thing I like about the feel of this group is that there seems to be a lot of harmony and cohesion amongst them. They’ve trained incredibly hard and they seem to be enjoying each other’s company.”

In the 2006 season, the entire Eli offense seemed to be hobbled early on when an injury to top goal scorer Gage Hills ’07 left a gaping hole in the front line. A few players stepped up, including forward Alex Munns ’07, but the offensive effort was left in the hands of a few Elis. Geiger said a similar situation would be hard to come by this year because of the team’s new approach.

Last year, the three top goal scorers, with five points apiece, were all seniors. The rest of the seven goals were scored by committee. This year, the Elis will have to rely on the input of the freshman class to avoid a paltry offensive output.

“To credit the seniors, they’re a big loss, but I think we can be a lot more successful because we’re more well rounded,” Geiger said. “The expectations will be on everyone’s shoulders to contribute”

Any renaissance of the men’s soccer team will rely heavily on the freshmen, all of whom are offensive players, leaving the back line to the veterans.

Four freshmen are all-American or all-state players, three have led their teams to state championships or playoffs, two have won national championships and one has played with the Mexican Under-17 National Team.

With their impressive backgrounds, lack of experience will not be an issue for this crew — in some cases, it could be an asset, Geiger said.

“A lack of experience might be a good thing when we face a team like [No. 10] Northwestern because we will play as hard as we can,” he said. “It’s going to be a collective effort of everybody working together and that makes us pretty dangerous.”

Rookies Brad Rose ’11, a forward with 90 high school goals under his belt, and Aden Farina-Henry ’11, another front line player who notched 23 goals in 14 games his senior year of high school, should be forces to be reckoned with on the Yale front lines this year.

Returning forward Kevin Pope ’10 is recovering from a July tear to his MCL, but midfielder Jordan Raybould ’10 is expected step up in the offensive third to build on his single goal last year. Speedy forward Liam Leonard ’09 will need to have a greater presence in the box to get more than four shots off, as he did in his 16 starts in 2006.

The Bulldogs are set to take on the ranked Northwestern and No. 14 UConn teams soon. They play the Wildcats tonight in the Yale Soccer Classic at 7:30 p.m. and will face Sacred Heart on Sunday at 2:30.

Northwestern will be a tough matchup for the first game of the season because of the squad’s offensive prowess and rock-solid defending. The squad ceded just one goal but scored five of its own in two contests.

The high-pressure forwards manage nine corner kicks per game, which will test an Eli defense that was plagued by goals let in off set pieces last year.

“We recognize that we’re starting the season by jumping into the deep end,” Tompkins said. “They are a very skillful, athletic team, and we’ve worked on our organization and set pieces. We have a good understanding of the roles and responsibilities and the focus is very good.”

Though the faceoff with the Wildcats will be a challenging first match, the Bulldogs’ season offers little respite. The squad will take on UConn in the midst of their Ivy League schedule, along with a home game against Army — a defensive, senior-laden squad.

The entire Ancient Eight schedule is important for playoff eligibility, especially the trip to Philadelphia to battle 2006 runner-up Penn. But, as always, the season-closer Harvard-Yale game will be a highlight when it is played on Nov. 17.

“Obviously the league games are going to be more important,” midfielder Eric Meyer ’11 said. “But I’m definitely looking forward to [the Harvard] game. I’ve got it circled on my calendar, hopefully that will be for the Ivy Championship.”

But for now, November is far away for the Bulldogs, who will try and focus on competing against the tough Northwestern squad tonight and developing the highly talented new Elis.

“There’s no doubt that for us to be successful this year we’re going to need a significant contribution from the freshman class,” Tompkins said. “We can’t win ’em all until we’ve won the first one.”