The men’s soccer team is preparing for a “do-or-die” game this Saturday at Columbia.

That’s because Yale (7–5–2, 3–1 Ivy) is tied for second place with Dartmouth, just one point behind undefeated Cornell. The team has a legitimate shot at the Ivy championship. But to get there it will almost undoubtedly have to win its last three games, starting this Saturday at Columbia. Only twice in Ivy League history has a two-loss team won the championship: Dartmouth in 1964, and Brown in 1975. The last time Yale won a men’s soccer championship was 2005, when the Bulldogs shared it with Dartmouth and Brown.

In its last four visits to Columbia (5–7–1, 2–2 Ivy), Yale is 4–0. The Lions are coming off a 2–0 loss to Dartmouth, a team that Yale beat 2–0 at home. Even though this game might look like a lock for the Bulldogs, history has proven it will be a difficult test. After last week’s thrilling overtime victory at Penn, Yale must hit the road again. The last time the Elis won back-to-back road games was in 2003 at Quinnipiac and Penn.

Captain Chris Dennen ’12, who is the only Yale player from New York, said he is familiar with many of the Columbia players from summer league.

“They’re an athletic, physical, fit team,” Dennen said. “We can’t shy up. We need to come and bring it.”

One advantage the Bulldogs will have against their opponents is on the defensive side of the ball, according to statistics. Yale has allowed the second fewest goals overall in the Ivy League, 13, and Columbia has allowed the second most, 18. Ivy frontrunner Cornell is in first with only eight goals allowed all season. When the Big Red beat Yale 2–0 two weeks ago it complemented a strong defensive line with an aggressive, opportunistic attack. Goalie Bobby Thalman ’13 said the team can’t afford to start this game slowly.

“They’ve got some skilled players at the midfield … We have to make sure no one slips through and keep the back line organized,” Thalman said.

If the previous four Ivy games have been any indication, the team’s seniors will have a large role to play on Saturday. All three of Yale’s game-winning shots have come from seniors: Dennen against Harvard, Charlie Paris ’12 at Penn and Charlie Neil ’12 against Dartmouth. Neil said the team has not lost its composure this season.

Dennen added that experience from last year has helped. In 2010, the team faced a one-win Ivy League season. Dennen added that this year’s team has a sense of urgency last year’s lacked.

“I can see the end of my career right before me … I can speak for the entire senior class, we don’t want it to end,” Dennen said.

Kickoff is at Columbia this Saturday at 4 p.m.

Contact david mcneill at