Injuries and inexperience plagued the men’s soccer team last fall as the Bulldogs put up a lackluster 5–9–3 record overall and 2–5 in conference play to finish tied for last place in the Ivy League with Columbia. But this year, the Elis hope to change that, returning key players despite losing five seniors to graduation and, according to head coach Brian Tompkins, a strong incoming class of freshman recruits.

“They haven’t really missed a step at all,” defender Andy Hackbarth ’12 said of the freshmen. “They’ve made the transition very well into college play, and I think they’ll make a huge contribution to the team this year. I feel like as a whole the class has been very competitive together and they’ve all been playing extremely well together.”

Forwards Brad Rose ’11 and Scott Armbrust ’13, the Elis’ two leading scorers last season with six goals apiece, return to the lineup this year and will provide much-needed experience to the team. Last year, inexperience was a problem as the Bulldogs lost by only one goal in four of five conference losses, including a double overtime loss to Harvard, 1–0, who would eventually finish in first place in the league.

“We’ve got a great senior class who have been through three tough seasons now, and that senior leadership seems to be growing,” captain and midfielder Andy Shorten ’11 said. “And we’ve got a fresh crop of freshmen that are all great players and are all very competitive. I think everyone is kind of on the same page and knows what needs to get on. Hopefully we won’t have the same situation as last year.”

A lack of offensive opoprtunities also factored into the Elis’ poor record last season. The Bulldogs attempted a total of 183 shots, compared with 253 for their opponents. And the disparity in scoring chances was too much for the Bulldog defense to handle — Yale finished last in the conference in goals allowed, with 30 on the year.

But according to Hackbarth, this year’s team is different.

“We lost a lot of close games, so I feel like in some ways our record was misleading,” Hackbarth said. “Sometimes we were a little bit disorganized and we didn’t really possess the ball, which caused us to always be defending. But I feel like we’ve improved on that.”

Tompkins agreed with Hackbarth and said he has seen a noticeable improvement in the team’s demeanor and play over the course of the off-season. With the team’s improvement, Tompkins hopes the team will be able to finish those close games that it was not able to finish last year.

“We’ve spent a lot of time over the winter and the spring working on the technical aspects of the game: the passing, the receiving, movement with and without the ball,” Tompkins said. “There’s definitely been a trend that shows that there are guys that are getting a lot sharper. I think the payoff will be us being a little bit better with our execution this year, and hopefully that will result in some wins.”

The Bulldogs open the 2010 season at UConn on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.