The men’s soccer team knows Ivy games are different. They are counting on Ivy games to be different.
The Elis (2-4-4, 0-0-2 Ivy) have tied four of five games in the past month, including two conference matches. This Saturday at Penn (4-6-2, 1-1) at 7:30 p.m., they need to get a win on the board to climb out of sixth place in the standings.
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Ancient Eight matches are different from non-conference games because the stakes are so much higher, defender Markus Jackson ’09 said, and the Elis hope that extra intensity will work to their advantage in Philadelphia.
“It’s really hard to win the Ivy League with three ties, so it’s important to take as many points from as many games as possible,” Jackson said. “When you play Ivy games, it’s a different mentality than non-Ivy games because the competition and rivalry brings the best of both teams. It will be a defensive battle.”
The Bulldogs may have the upper hand on the defensive end, as the back line has helped stop 96 of 99 shots in the last five games. The squad hasn’t been beaten since a Sept. 21 loss to St. Francis.
Penn’s offensive-minded game may give Yale some trouble. The Quakers top the conference with 6.64 shots on goal per game, and seven players have two or more goals for the season.
But the Elis’ tough defense is almost intuitive about where the ball will be shot and is able to get in front of most threatening attempts on goal, defender Max Rhodes ’09 said. He mentioned defender Frank Piasta’s ’09 excellent anticipation as a huge contribution to the back line’s effectiveness.
The staunch defensive effort is backed up by a league-leading 6.25 saves per game by captain and goalkeeper Erik Geiger ’08. And a deep bench gives the Elis a boost, especially on defense.
Defender James Craig ’08 stepped in for Jackson — who was sidelined with a shoulder injury until last Saturday — and recorded an assist in Tuesday’s match. He has been essential in moving the ball up the wings, a trademark of the Eli style of play.
“Penn is one of the few teams who really allows for a flow to develop,” Rhodes said. “I expect wing play will be extremely important in maintaining possession. It will be crucial in terms of establishing a flow to our game.”
Contributions from the bench are essential for the Bulldogs in the offensive third as well. Forward Aden Farina-Henry ’11 scored against Central Connecticut State earlier this week, and midfielder Andy Shorten ’11 recorded an assist against Cornell, even though neither player started the game.
The Bulldogs’ goals this week — one against Cornell and two against CCSU — show that the offense is finally hitting its stride and penetrating deep into its opponents’ territories.
“The players are taking a better mentality when around the net,” Geiger said. “They’re being much more opportunistic and not playing as reactive, and they’re better able to take advantage of their chances. They’re good players and they want to show that on the scoreboard.”
Rhodes agreed and said the lone goal that won the Oct. 9 game against Army was a turning point for the Eli offense because it changed the mentality of the attackers. Three players notched their first career goals this week alone, and the defense is responsible for two assists.
Recently, the cloud of inconsistency that surrounded the Bulldogs early in the season seems to have lifted.
“The way I think about it is you get bad luck at certain points and good luck at certain points,” Jackson said. “I think going into this weekend we’re going to get really lucky and score five goals and win the game.”
The Elis need a win to pull themselves out of the frustrating funk in which they have landed after four tied games. To stay competitive in the Ivy League, wins are put on a premium at this point in the season, players said.
“We definitely need this win if we want to stay in the hunt for the Ivy championship,” midfielder Eric Meyer ’11 said. “We haven’t lost in the past six games and hopefully this weekend we’ll get a win on the board instead of a tie.”