The Yale men’s soccer team knows its .500 record last season wasn’t good enough. But it is something to build upon.

The Bulldogs return a group of experienced midfielders and forwards this fall but will need to solidify an inexperienced back line that was hit hard by the class of 2009’s departure in order to improve on their fourth-place finish in the Ivy League last season.

“The mood leaving in the spring was that we were a team on the way up,” goalkeeper Travis Chulick ’10 said, although he noted that the team’s record last year did not signify a successful season. “Last year, from my perspective, got the ball rolling.”

The team will rely on an experienced midfield in order to succeed this season. Captain Jordan Raybould ’10, Jon Carlos ’10, Eric Meyer ’11 and Justin Song ’10 all saw considerable playing time last season and will likely play important roles in 2009. Raybould and Meyer should pair up in the central midfield once the latter returns from a broken nose, while Song and Carlos — who has also played forward — are talented outside midfielders.

Yale will also benefit from an experienced, versatile group of attackers, many of whom can play both up top and as midfielders. Aden Farina-Henry ’11, who scored four goals in just six games on the way to an honorable mention All-Ivy selection, will likely be a centerpiece of the team’s attack — if he can stay healthy from injury — while Andy Shorten ’11, Brad Rose ’11 and Chris Dennen ’12 cause problems for opposing teams’ defenses due to their speed. Kevin Pope ’10, who led the team in goals in 2007 and has six career tallies for the Bulldogs under his belt, adds experience on the attack. Charlie Neil ’12 and Charlie Paris ’12 are assets to head coach Brian Tompkins due to their size, and especially to the former’s physical play.

“We should be able to hold the ball better in the offensive portion than we have in the past,” Raybould said. “We have more people on the field who have been contributing for a few seasons than we did last year. We also have a little more depth than last season.”

The Bulldogs play a concerted style of possession soccer as opposed to the long-ball method employed by many college teams. While the team was effective in passing the ball up the field last season, it often struggled to capitalize up top. Raybould said the team has started to focus on keeping the ball in the offensive third and having patience.

The team’s back line will be of the most concern for Tompkins, who will be looking to replace a group of four senior defenders who saw the bulk of the action last season. Their loss has forced Tompkins to do some reshuffling in the back. Skilled sophomore Andy Hackbarth ’12, who was an honorable mention All-Ivy selection as a defensive central midfielder, will likely pair up with Marcus DiLallo ’12, who started the first seven games of last season at defense, as the two central defenders in Yale’s flat-back four. The remaining two fullback spots may be filled by freshmen — Kevin Peterson ’13, Frank Shaw ’13, Milan Tica ’13 and Tony Wilbar ’13 are all listed on the team’s roster as defenders — unless Tompkins decides to pull winger Song, the team’s most improved player last season, back to help on defense. Song said he has been playing both positions during preseason and is still unsure where he will end up on the field.

The team’s inexperience at defense will be lessened by the presence of second-year starter Chulick in net. Chulick played every minute of every game in goal last season for the Bulldogs and made countless saves in big games such as those against national powerhouses Boston College and UConn.

The Bulldogs will once again be challenged by a tough non-conference schedule to complement the always competitive Ivy League season. After opening their season this Saturday against nearby rival Quinnipiac, they face a tough early season opponent in MSU — who has made it to the College Cup in 23 of the past 25 seasons — along with Adelphi at the Brown Classic on Sept. 13. Yale travels to Boston College on Oct. 6 to avenge a heartbreaking 2–1 last-second loss at home last season, and welcome UConn to Reese Stadium on Oct. 20. Both schools play in the national powerhouse Big East conference.

Yale plays at home against Harvard and Dartmouth, who both defeated the Bulldogs on their way to top-three finishes in the Ivy League. The Elis travel to face the third team, UPenn, on Oct. 24. The stretch of consecutive games against Harvard, BC and Dartmouth during a one-week span in early October will be crucial if Yale is to compete for the Ivy League Championship. The Elis’ season finale on Nov. 13 against rival Princeton will be televised on the Fox Soccer Channel. Last year the teams played to an entertaining 2–2 overtime draw.

For the team to succeed this season, it will need to keep up the gritty, competitive mentality from last season while managing to turn the close losses and ties from last season into victories.

Last season’s nail-biters — as well as a lot of intense summer training — will hope to pay dividends for the team this year as it looks to start winning the close ones, according to Song.

“Our team came in a lot more fit in the four years I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s really clear that all the guys on the team worked really hard this summer. Hopefully in those really close games our fitness should help us out a lot.”

He added, “We have a lot of guys who’ve had a lot of experience. Experience is definitely a big part of those really close games.”

And although the team appears to remain reluctantly satisfied with its play last season, the positives from last year have helped energize the team heading into their season opener.

“There’s a little bit of carry-over,” said Chulick, referring to the buzz following last season. “The mood is definitely good.”