With an entirely new coaching staff, the Yale men’s soccer team is halfway through a season marked by change and transition. Still, one year removed from a despondent one-win season — Yale’s worst showing since 1922 — the Elis’ current record is barely better.
Tuesday night’s 5–2 loss at Rutgers pushed the Bulldogs’ record to 1–8–0, just a slight improvement over their 0–7–2 record at this time last fall. This weekend, the team will enter its second game of conference play at the very bottom of the table on goal differential.
The Bulldogs’ results this season can be attributed to lapses on both sides of the ball. But for new head coach Kylie Stannard, who came to Yale last year by way of Big Ten title defender Michigan State and has plans to mirror that success in his coming years in New Haven, Yale’s defensive play has been the biggest challenge this season.
“I [come] from a program that for the last couple years led the nation in shutouts, so I take a lot of pride in defending as a team, and it just hasn’t been good enough,” Stannard said.
The only Bulldog victory thus far in the season has come against a winless Quinnipiac squad, and at 24 goals allowed, the Elis have conceded nine more scores than the next-closest team in the Ivy League.
This performance stands in stark contrast to Michigan State’s record during Stannard’s time there, when the Spartans posted 14 shutouts in 2014, and 15 one year before that. The team made five NCAA tournament appearances during Stannard’s six years in East Lansing, Michigan.
“While [the Michigan State soccer program] had its struggles in early years, it has been a very successful program for the past several years now, and the core values are very ingrained into the program there,” Stannard said. “Currently, the Yale program is going through some big changes, and with that comes some change in culture and mentality on a year-round basis. We are in the forming stages of creating a new culture and new core values with the Yale program right now, so there are a lot of differences between the two programs, but there is incredible promise and a good foundation to start with here at Yale.”
Although the Bulldogs are focused on limiting mental errors and mistakes, the number of goals they allow continues to increase. Tuesday’s game alone saw Yale let in five.
Stannard expressed frustration that despite all the work that has gone into improving the defensive wall — the aspect of the game he said the Bulldogs have worked the most on — he has seen little improvement.
“Results have been disappointing, but generally the attitude is trying to fix our mistakes and get better with every game, which includes discipline for everyone,” midfielder Nicky Downs ’19 said. “Losing isn’t fun for anyone.”
Part of that disappointment may stem from the loss of top defender Henry Flugstad-Clarke ’17 due to a torn ACL, but midfielder Archie Kinnane ’18 noted that mental lapses have also played a large role.
Two own goals allowed by the Bulldogs, including one that proved costly in their conference loss against Harvard, exemplify those mental mistakes.
“As a team we do a good job at defending for the majority of the game,” Kinnane said. “It’s just that we will lose focus just for a couple minutes and give up a goal. Something that we really need to work on is defending crosses coming into the box.”
Despite the Bulldogs’ unsatisfying start to the season, players refuted the idea that they have slipped into a losing mentality after four consecutive losses. The issues thus far, however, have given Stannard a clear view of the areas in which he needs to bolster his squad in the future.
Though NCAA rules do not allow coaches to comment on specific high school recruits before the players have matriculated, Stannard said that the team will be adding one goalkeeper and at least two defenders for the class of 2020.
“The area that we have to add the most depth in is our back line,” Stannard said.
Already, in Stannard’s tenure, young players have shown their ability to contribute for the Bulldogs. Forward Kyle Kenagy ’19, who missed three games with a sprained MCL, leads the team in points and has scored in more than half of the matches he has started.
Stannard also named two sophomores, Kinnane and midfielder Ollie Iselin ’18, as additional standout players so far this season. Stannard described Kinnane, who walked onto the team, as Yale’s most consistent player, adding that Iselin leads the team in shots, accounting for almost a third of the team’s attempts.
“Our coaching staff has actually talked about trying to multiply [Iselin] because we’ve literally played him everywhere we could, including center back, center mid and forward, and we have been really happy with his performance and attitude, as well,” Stannard said.
Currently, goalkeeper Kees Schipper ’19 has been starting in place of Ryan Simpson ’17, who is injured with a tear in a thigh muscle but hopes to return in a week. Although Schipper has started just five of Yale’s nine matches this year, he is already ranked fifth for number of saves in the Ivy League.
As Stannard augments this core of young players with recruits, he has high expectations for the future.
“I know it sounds ambitious when we only have one win right now, but our goal in the short term, in the next two to five years, is absolutely to win an Ivy League championship,” Stannard said. “[In the long term], I think it can be a program that’s like our men’s lacrosse or women’s volleyball or the hockey programs where they’re competing on the national stage and making runs in the NCAA tournament.”
For now, the focus will be on Saturday, when the Bulldogs face defending Ivy League champions Dartmouth at home. The game kicks off at 4 p.m.