Coming off of four straight losses, the Yale men’s soccer team looks to keep its season hopes afloat in a home contest against Dartmouth on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (1–8–0, 0–1–0 Ivy) — who have been striving for an Ivy League title since the beginning of the season — have not yet lost these aspirations, despite a slow start to the 2015 season.
“We set a goal at the beginning of the season of winning an Ivy League championship,” forward Avery Schwartz ’16 said. “The only way to do that is to play one game at a time.”
After finishing 1–13–3 last year, one of the toughest season results in the team’s long history, Eli players stressed that Saturday’s game represents a critical point in the season. With Dartmouth (5–3–1, 1–0–0) laying claim to the 2014 Ivy title and remaining one of the most talented teams in the conference this year, Yale’s second conference matchup, though by no means easy, will be an opportunity for the Bulldogs to prove their ability against top competition in the conference.
Additionally, because the Elis have a conference loss behind them, all of their remaining six games will be crucial in their attempt to win the title. Since 1975, no team has won the Ivy League men’s soccer championship with more than one league loss.
“If there was one league favorite going into the season, it was probably Dartmouth,” head coach Kylie Stannard said. “They are the defending champions obviously … They are the team to beat. Getting a result against them would be a massive boost for us as far as putting our name in the mix.”
Yale has conceded more than one goal in each of its games this year, and 11 in the last three games. Midfielder Nicky Downs ’19 said that this week, the Elis have been actively creating a game plan to reverse this trend.
Against Dartmouth, which is second in the Ancient Eight with 13 goals in nine games and has a deep roster with eight players contributing goals thus far, an improved defensive performance from the Elis will be key.
“We are going into the game with the mentality to shut things down defensively, and then build our attack off good defensive play,” Downs said.
In a year that has thus far been marked by disappointment, Stannard noted the team’s sense of urgency in turning the season around, particularly to give seniors a positive send-off. He said in Wednesday’s practice, he reminded the team that the Eli seniors have just three home games left, and that “their time is near.”
Defensive midfielder Pablo Espinola ’16, one of six seniors on the team, elaborated on what his last few games mean to him.
“Growing, up you always dream about playing Division I soccer, particularly against top-10 teams like we have done this year. However, the Ivy League is special,” Pablo said. “Every year it feels as though each Ivy League game is the biggest game of my career … More than anything I am looking forward to playing alongside my brothers for one of my last few times”
This year is Stannard’s first year as head coach of the team. His primary focus has been on altering the culture of the team, he said, and regardless of Yale’s current record, he views this season as a success.
He highlighted the team’s offense, which has already surpassed last season’s scoring total with nine goals, as a sign of improvement early on his tenure.
“The culture, the mentality, the mindset, the fitness [and] the standards that we are asking guys to compete with every day have improved,” Stannard said. “There has been progress for sure, even though we are not seeing it in the win column as much yet.”
Kickoff for Yale’s game against Dartmouth is at 4 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.