Midway through the second half, a Yale (0-3) midfielder crossed the ball right in front of the wide-open net, but nobody was there to put it away, and the scoring opportunity was lost. Typical of the season so far for the men’s soccer team.

On Saturday, the Elis took on Fairfield (3-1) in their first away game and put on their best performance of the season. But their inability to follow through on key scoring opportunities hurt them against the Stags, whose lone goal topped the Bulldogs, 1-0.

The Stags put on pressure early and played a physical game — there were 46 fouls and five yellow cards in the game — and the loud home crowd heckled the Elis relentlessly. But, defender Markus Jackson ’09 said the visitors took it all in stride.

“You know that you’re going to get fouled,” he said. “You just have to not be affected by it. If you are it throws off your game.”

The Bulldogs were able to keep possession of the ball, especially in the midfield, and created a lot of opportunities on goal. But Yale was unable to take advantage of their nine shots and countless chances to score off of set pieces.

The midfield was a big contributor to the increased offensive pressure, with the new 4-1-3-2 formation, as the three midfielders and outside defenders had more freedom to attack on offense. Four of the Elis’ nine shots came from the midfielders, and Jackson and defender Alex Guzinski ’09 also notched a shot apiece.

“It’s part of our new lineup,” Jackson said. “It gives backs a lot more freedom, so I can go up the field. The overall concentration was better, everyone was committed to the same goal so we got a lot of good performances.”

The high-pressure Eli offense almost paid off in the first half, when midfielder Eric Meyer ’11 took a shot from the left side, slamming the ball into the far side of the net past the keeper. But Meyer was ruled offsides, leaving the score at 0-0.

Three and a half minutes later, the Stags took the lead. Matthew Uy passed the ball to top-goal scorer Sam Bailey about 12 yards out, who knocked it into the lower right corner to give his team the 1-0 lead.

“We just got caught once,” Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said. “But we weren’t troubled that much. The difference is that we didn’t reward good possession with the critical finish.”

After the Fairfield goal, the Elis kept their composure and maintained good possession of the ball. On the defensive end, the additional center midfielder was an asset in warding off the Stags’ offensive effort. The home team only racked up two shots in the second half, due to the Elis’ resilient back line.

The Bulldog defenders were the team’s backbone on Saturday night. The midfielders and forwards put forth their best offensive effort yet, but the defense never let up and was able to get the ball up the field with ease.

“The guys in the back played with a lot of conviction,” Tompkins said. “We had a game plan coming in and they stuck to it.”

Even with the sound team effort the Elis showed against the Stags, they were unable — as they have been so far in the young season — to score goals. The Bulldogs only have one goal in the three games they played, coming from forward Liam Leonards’ ’09 penalty kick against Northwestern in the Yale Soccer Classic on Sept. 7.

But in Fairfield the Elis came up dry again, despite an unrelenting offensive effort by the three center midfielders and forwards. The Bulldogs may finally be on to something with the 4-1-3-2 defensive formation, however, and are now primed to get into the win column at the Dartmouth Classic this weekend.

“We played really well together,” captain and goalkeeper Erik Geiger ’08 said. “It’s just that the final pass needed to be a higher quality. We were able to play around them, it’s coming together a little tighter because we’re playing our third game.”