Coming off a hard-fought 1–0 loss at Dartmouth last weekend, the men’s soccer team will travel to Ithaca on Saturday to face No. 16 Cornell.
The Bulldogs (3–5–3, 0–1–1 Ivy) suffered their worst Ivy League loss last year against the Big Red (11–0–0, 2–0–0 Ivy), falling 2–0 at home. Cornell’s squad appears primed to present a similar challenge this year, entering Saturday’s game without a single defeat this season and with one of the nation’s top-ranked offenses.
The Big Red come into this weekend’s matchup with the second highest goals-per-game average in the nation, at 2.9 goals per game. Cornell striker Dainel Haber is leading the country with 3.3 points per game as well.
Captain Bobby Thalman ’13 was not intimidated by Cornell’s offensive prowess and successes this season.
“I think for this upcoming game against Cornell and the situation that we’re in, I see it really as a great opportunity for our team,” he said. “We can knock off one of the better teams in the Ivy League tier away and get a win that I feel that most teams won’t be able to grab from them up in Ithaca.”
According to Thalman, part of the Eli game-plan will be to play with a calm style that focuses on moving the ball well. He added that the Bulldogs will have to remain composed in the face of a Big Red attack that challenges opposing defenses aggressively.
Defender Nick Alers ’14 echoed Thalman’s description of the Cornell offense.
“They’re a good team with a very unique style of play,” Alers said. “They play very direct, so it’s tough to prepare for them sometimes because they play differently than a lot of the other teams we face.”
Alers explained that the direct style of play means that Cornell looks to quickly move up the field and attack upon receiving the ball.
Judging by their offensive production this year, Cornell has been successful in executing this strategy. The team has scored at least three goals in each of their past six contests, and have won six of their 11 games by two goals or more. Alers said that at least part of this success has been due to Cornell’s strong group of players who are able to execute their playing style.
Alers said that a lack of focus by the Elis contributed to Cornell’s two goals in last year’s game and he hopes that the team will remain concentrated on Cornell’s attacking style this time around.
“I think just making sure that we work together as a defense and that one person’s always covering for the next is going to be key,” Alers said.
While that may be the key to the game on defense, the Bulldogs will try to jump-start a stagnant offense on the other half of the field. Yale has been held scoreless in its first two Ivy League games and has scored only two goals in its last five games overall.
Thalman said that the team’s inability to score goals has been especially frustrating given that the Bulldogs have consistently been able to generate legitimate scoring chances.
“Over the course of practice that we’ve had this week, the intensity and the energy has really picked up,” he said. “I think that will translate into our mentality within the 18-yard box [and] trying to get some of these balls in the back of the net.”
This weekend’s game at Cornell will be the Elis’ third straight game on the road against an Ivy opponent. Alers characterized the scheduling as tough before acknowledging the necessity of winning Ivy League games on the road despite the difficult scheduling.
Thalman also noted that the scheduling was challenging, but added that it rotates every year. In fact, the Bulldogs started last year’s Ivy season with three straight games at home. The captain instead emphasized the opportunity that the game holds.
“It’s a really promising weekend here,” Thalman said. “We’re looking forward to getting out on the field again and proving that we’re much better than the record that shows.”
The game will kickoff at 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.