The Yale men’s soccer team has been counting down the days until its first game, but today marks the start of the Bulldogs’ non-conference schedule. They will travel to Sacred Heart to take on the Pioneers in their first match of the season on Friday, followed by another away game against Fairleigh Dickinson on Sunday.

Though the Bulldogs are just one year removed from a dismal 1–13–3 2014 campaign, which marked the fewest wins for any Yale men’s soccer team since 1922, when the Elis played just six games, there is reason to be optimistic this season with the arrival of a new head coach, Kylie Stannard.

“Nobody was satisfied with last season, and it’s so clear that this year the team is getting after it every single day, hungry for results,” midfielder Saul Downie ’18 said.

Stannard, who came from the successful Michigan State soccer program, has brought many new tactics to improve his players both on and off the field.

Among Stannard’s main areas of focus are his players’ fundamental skills, technical abilities and overall fitness.

“He wants Yale soccer to be the hardest working team in the Ivy League,” midfielder Jimmy Kochanski ’19 said. “That not only includes work through effort, but also paying attention to the tiny details to get them right.”

Stannard’s approach to the game is not the only aspect of the Yale soccer program that is different from years past. According to Kochanski, players have been wearing heart monitors to evaluate their fitness and to ensure that they can hold up to the demands of a 90-minute match.

In addition, players have been paying special attention to the mental side of the game with the help of sports psychologist Brian Cain.

Cain has worked with several other Yale sports teams, including the football, baseball, field hockey and women’s swimming and diving teams. His focus has been to establish core values for the program and help the team come together to ensure success. In addition to these sessions, the team has developed many common goals — among them, focusing on winning one game at a time — to help ensure that they are approaching each day with the right attitude.

Yale’s first opponent, Sacred Heart (0–1–1, 0–0–0 Northeast), enters the season also hoping to rebound from a disastrous 2014. The Pioneers went winless over 18 games last year, tying just twice, including against the Bulldogs in Yale’s season opener.

The weekend will continue with Sunday’s match against Fairleigh Dickinson (0–2–0, 0–0–0 Northeast), where the Bulldogs will hope to redeem themselves after last season’s 3–1 loss. The Knights lost a pair of 3–0 games last weekend against Lehigh and Lafayette, mustering just four shots on goal in the two games combined.

However, despite the seemingly beatable opponents, players stressed that hard work and playing as a united group will be the determining factors in the team’s success, especially as the Ivy League season approaches.

“I think we will surprise a lot of teams with our work ethic and desire to prove ourselves after last year’s season,” midfielder and forward Josh Totte ’18 said. “The whole team is really excited to get after it.”

Both Friday and Sunday’s matches kick off at 7 p.m.