The members of the men’s soccer team know what they have to do to win, but they lost twice before finally starting to figure it out.
Yale (0-2) dropped its first two games of the 2007 season to No. 10 Northwestern (3-0-1) on Friday and Sacred Heart (2-2) yesterday in the Yale Soccer Classic. The home team finished fourth in the tournament behind Northwestern, Dartmouth (2-1-1) and Sacred Heart.
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Yesterday’s match against the Pioneers began with a bang that would define the rest of the game. Ten minutes in, forward Liam Leonard ’09 took a shot across the goal that slammed into the far post, just missing the net. For the rest of the afternoon, the Bulldogs’ offensive game was rife with missed, wide, and blocked shots — of 10 shots, only three were on goal.
“[The loss] was more on us than anything they did,” Leonard said Sunday. “We struggled to create and we weren’t dangerous today. Our passing wasn’t sharp and we had trouble connecting.”
Sacred Heart took advantage of the disjointed Eli midfield 20 minutes into the game and managed to hang on for the win. The Pioneers scored on a Ricarti Mendes header directly over the outstretched arms of goalkeeper and captain Erik Geiger ’08 and held the 1-0 lead for the rest of the game.
“They got that goal and pushed it in defensively,” midfielder Jordan Raybould ’10 said. “They had a good defensive scheme and we couldn’t find the holes.”
But the persistent Elis — who switched to a 3-4-3 defensive formation in an attempt to disrupt Sacred Heart — kept trying to break through the Pioneer back line, and the entire squad contributed to the hindered offensive effort. Even defenders Frank Piasta ’09 and Alex Guzinski ’09 — who were a force to be reckoned with against the Sacred Heart forwards — racked up three shots between them.
But the Bulldogs could not overcome their own wavering confidence and fatigue, Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said.
“Our minds and our legs were tired today,” he said. “They scored and just defended and we’re not experienced or savvy enough to break that down yet. We worked hard to get the ball but the concentration has been inconsistent.”
The defeat at the hands of the Pioneers was preceded by a loss to Northwestern two days earlier.
On Friday, the Wildcats took the field with two games under their belts against a young Yale squad that had yet to play a game. Northwestern put immediate pressure on the Eli back line, getting off six shots on goal each half and 18 shots total.
The Bulldogs fought with the Wildcats for most of the first half and defended their four corner kicks with ease, but a breakdown with two minutes to go in the first half caused the capacity crowd to stop cheering. Geiger — who made nine saves — deflected a shot from Carl Pett which Geoff Fallon then crossed to tournament MVP Eamon O’Neill, who placed a shot into the top corner of the goal, well beyond Geiger’s reach.
“We have to stay focused all 90 minutes,” forward Brad Rose ’11 said. “We had a couple of mental lapses and we let in a goal two minutes before the half. We need to play better as a unit.”
Northwestern kept pushing offensively and slammed another ball into the back of the net 7:16 into the second half. The visitors’ tough defense prevented the Eli offense from getting many opportunities on goal, and the Elis only notched 12 shots. But about 17 minutes into the half, the Wildcats’ goalie tripped a Yale forward and Leonard took the penalty kick, pummeling the ball into the upper right corner of the goal to close in on Northwestern, 2-1.
Still, a third goal by Northwestern secured a win for the undefeated visitors. The Bulldogs’ defensive style was a factor in the loss, as they were stretched out in the midfield, allowing the Wildcats to find gaps.
“We didn’t do enough defensively,” Geiger said. “We gave them too much space. You can’t chase the game as much as we did. This year we’ll live and die by how we play collectively — there were moments when we were very dangerous but we need to make it more of a team effort.”
Though the Elis play did not live up to their expectations, the squad now knows what to fix before the bulk of the season gets underway.
“There are a lot of things for us to put right and we’ll get to it,” Tompkins said. “I like the attitude and talent that we have, but we’re a better team than these results show. We’ll keep working at the ABC’s until we can prove it.”