Who would have thought a team could be so excited coming off a tie?
After a grueling 110-minute battle last Wednesday against powerhouse Boston College, the men’s soccer team is geared up to begin Ivy League play. The Bulldogs (1-4-1, 0-0 Ivy) take on Dartmouth (6-2-1, 0-0) in New Haven tomorrow night at 4:30 p.m. having had sufficient time to rest since their tie in Boston.
The Elis got off to a bumpy start with a four-game losing streak, but have found their stride in a victory over UW-Milwaukee and, more recently, the tie to then No. 6 Boston College in double overtime. With the pieces falling into place, the Bulldogs are optimistic about taking on their Ancient Eight foes tomorrow and in the coming weeks.
“To get a decent result like the one against BC is going to boost your confidence,” captain and goalkeeper Erik Geiger ’08 said. “It proves what we always knew: that we’re a better team than our record shows. It gave us a little validation, but we have to focus on the upcoming games. It’s exciting that we’re going to start playing a lot.”
But Dartmouth is a worthy opponent and has finished first in the league two of the past three years. The squad has a strong defensive line made up of four returning players who have allowed only 39 shots on goal. Behind the unyielding defense, Big Green netminder Sean Milligan has allowed just four goals this year and tops the league with a 0.48 goals against average.
Though the Big Green rely largely on their imposing defense, forwards Craig Henderson and Andrew Olsen have knocked in four goals apiece, and both rank in the top ten in goals scored in the Ancient Eight.
“Dartmouth is a well organized team,” Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said. “They are very compact defensively; they’re hard to break down, and they don’t give up a lot of chances. They may be the most disciplined team in the league.”
The Dartmouth style of play will be no secret to the Bulldogs. Dartmouth played in the season-opening Yale Soccer Classic, and the Elis competed in the Dartmouth Classic, though the teams have never faced each other on the field.
These early scouting opportunities have prepared the Bulldogs for their first conference game this weekend, players said. An aggressive Eli back line will challenge the Big Green’s goal scorers to penetrate deep into Bulldog territory before even having a chance to get a shot off on Ivy League player of the week, Geiger. But the Bulldogs need to maintain their composure on defense and focus their offensive effort in order to succeed, Tompkins said.
“We just need two elements on defense: concentration and commitment. In the BC game our guys showed a tremendous level of commitment to defense,” he said. “[On offense] We’ve been able to create chances in every game; what’s let us down is concentration. We need to be very sharp so when the chances appear we can take advantage of them.”
This season the Elis have been plagued by shots that have not found the back of the net. The fluid offense, spearheaded by forward Brad Rose ’11 and midfielder Tyler Guse ’09 — who racked up two goals against UW-Milwaukee — has been largely unable to score, notching just four goals on the season.
But players remain optimistic about the team’s chances in front of the net.
“The main thing is keeping our composure,” defender Alex Guzinski ’09 said. “Overall, I think we just need to play our game and we’ll be fine. It’s just a matter of taking advantage of our chances, and I have no doubt that we’ll be able to create chances against them.”
The Elis have greatly improved since their first outing against No. 19 Northwestern on Sept. 7 because the team’s huge freshman class has had a chance to mesh with the returning players on the field. Though the team started with a four-game skid, the most recent win and tie indicate that the group may be on the upswing.
“Giving the relative experience of this team, we’re going to continue to be a work in progress,” Tompkins said. “We won’t take for granted that any facet of our game is good enough. The ultimate goal is consistency, and until we achieve that we’re going to continue to improve.”