The Yale men’s soccer team scored just 10 goals last season. But through nine games this year, just over half of the team’s schedule, the Bulldogs have already scored 16, including a 7–0 routing of Marist in mid-September — and Ivy Conference play has not even started.
The team’s offensive improvement comes from a number of different factors, including three new assistant coaches, two of whom are Yale alumni, and the return of forward Brad Rose ’12, who sat out last season due to an ankle injury suffered in the team’s season opener.
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Head coach Brian Tompkins said he took a “hard look” over the winter at the way he was running the men’s soccer program. He looked closely at the team’s practice routine, its coaching staff and player personnel and decided to make some changes. He said practices often had too much of a laid-back atmosphere.
“The program was in a trough,” Tompkins said. “I didn’t feel like we were achieving on the field consistent with our ability.”
At the start of spring training, Tompkins decided to focus more time in practices on game situations rather than drills. He has also tried to make more efficient use of practice time, keeping players active from the moment the team starts up to the very last minute.
To help with his new program, Tompkins brought in three new assistant coaches at the start of the preseason: Hiro Suzuki ’00, Cailean Bailey and Jay Alberts ’03. Suzuki served as the captain of the 1999-2000 men’s soccer team, while Alberts played with the A-League’s Minnesota Thunder for two seasons. Tompkins described Alberts as “one of the greatest players in Ivy League history.” Alberts said that, so far, he has tried to implement some of the methods he learned while playing professionally.
Bailey works in all areas of the soccer program but has been working particularly closely with the goalkeepers. Bailey’s efforts have made a noticeable impact. Goalkeeper Bobby Thalman ’13 has a 84.5 save percentage, while last year that number stood at 73 percent.
“It’s a position that I think deserves a lot of individual attention,” Bailey said. “The goalkeeper is a big position. It’s the one that gets noticed a lot when things go good or bad.”
Chris Dennen ’12, captain of the men’s soccer team, added that the team made a commitment at the end of last season to be more competitive in both practices and games.
“The greater energy in practice has been carrying over to our actual game play,” Dennen said.
Both Suzuki and Alberts said that, in addition to changing the team’s mindset, they have also been able to bring more flexibility to the needs of the players because they understand the challenges Yale student-athletes face.
“Especially through midterms and when classes start getting heavy — I can relate to those things in my coaching,” Alberts said. “When guys are getting tired we take our foot off the pedal a little bit and have lighter practices.”
In terms of technical skills, Suzuki said the team has also been working to add more defensive pressure. Offensively, the team has been doing activities that require more mobility. He said the players are forced to move before the ball arrives at them instead of waiting. In addition, the team has been working on off the ball movement.
Charlie Neil ’12 said the ultimate purpose of these drills has been getting players in better position to score goals.
The return of Rose has also been a major boost for the offense. Rose has already made an impact on the team this year with 11 points, and he said he has benefitted from the team’s more competitive dynamic.
“Individually it allows you to be more prepared physically and mentally for games,” Rose said. “There’s not much differentiation between practices and games. It makes everything seem easier.”
Rose added that after the Bulldogs’ wins and double-overtime loss against No.1 ranked UConn, they believe they can win, and this belief in winning separates this season from prior seasons.
Tompkins said that the men’s soccer program is leaving a time when it underachieved behind it, and the Bulldogs are now establishing themselves as a team that should make its mark in the Ivy League.
The Bulldogs begin conference play on Saturday at 7 p.m. against Harvard.