Before the men’s soccer team can effectively chase its goal of an Ivy League Championship, it must do something that it took five games to do last season — win a game. The Bulldogs begin their season this Sunday against Maine (1-1) at 1 p.m. at Reese Field.

Despite Maine’s pre-season ranking of last in the nine-team American East Conference, the Black Bears, like Yale, return with an experienced squad. Eight starters return from a team that finished 3-13-1 last year — one fewer than Yale’s nine.

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A strong point of Yale’s team is its defense, which includes captain Alex Guzinski ’09, a second team All-Ivy Selection last year and the team’s most experienced player, and Jordan Raybould ’10, an Ivy-League honorable mention last season. Kevin Pope, on the other hand, who led the team with four goals last year, will look to return as the team’s main attacking threat during his junior year.

While this will be the first game for the Bulldogs to showcase their experienced team, the Black Bears have already had the opportunity to test out their squad twice. Nonetheless, Coach Brian Tompkins sees pros and cons to the difference in games played.

“It’s certainly an advantage for a team to have played a couple of times — I anticipate that they’ll be very fit,” he said. “But we’ll know a little about them, and they won’t know anything about us.”

Yet despite the apparent pre-game advantage, he emphasized that it will all come down to what happens Sunday.

After a tough pre-season, Tompkins said his team is finally ready be rewarded for its effort and see whether its preparation has paid off. “The guys have worked extremely hard this pre-season. Getting the season off to a winning start would be a good reward for all the hard work they’ve put in,” he said.

“We’re ready to be tested,” Tompkins said. “We need to embrace the opportunity to compete against someone besides ourselves.”