In the opening weeks of its 2016 season, the Yale men’s soccer team will travel north on two trips to take on Big Ten schools Michigan and Michigan State. The Bulldogs have never travelled to either school and have not traveled this far since a single weekend in 2013, making the two separate journeys seem unusual — if not for one factor.
Less than two years ago, Michigan was home for Bulldog head coach Kylie Stannard, who served as an assistant coach on the Michigan State staff for six years before coming to New Haven. Now, in Stannard’s second season at Yale, he is heading back with the Bulldogs to open the 2016 campaign Sunday against Michigan, though he did not offer too many specifics about his decision to schedule the two games in the state.
“My scheduling philosophy is about having some balance and enhancing the student-athlete experience, which includes challenging ourselves against some of the best in the country and visiting some of the best campuses and facilities in the country,” Stannard said. “Having the opportunity to play a Big Ten program on the road in a great college town with incredible history and facilities is a really cool experience for our players, and one that I hope they will remember for the rest of their lives.”
The return home is not unique to Stannard: Midfielder An Le ’19, from Portage, Michigan, will once again be able to play on his home soil. Stannard praised the opportunity for Le, as well as several other players from the Midwest, whose parents will not need to travel as far for the two games.
Le, who grew up a 90-minute drive away from Michigan State, said he has friends at both schools and is looking forward to playing in front of them this season.
“I couldn’t have been more excited to see Michigan and Michigan State on the schedule this year,” Le said. “There’s definitely a sense of going home, especially being a Michigan State fan. It’ll be strange to be lining up against the school I always rooted for growing up … For once, my family won’t have to travel too far to see my games, so I know they’re very excited.”
In 2015, Michigan played to an 8–6–4 record in the tough Big Ten, and the Wolverines were 6–2–2 at home. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, won just one game last season and come in with an extremely young team; 10 freshmen are on this year’s roster, with just four juniors and four seniors.
While that youth comes with challenges, it also provides a relative unknown of how much talent the Yale roster may have.
“I think starting the season against a tough opponent will be good to see where we are as a group,” midfielder Nicky Downs ’19 said. “It will serve as a benchmark for how we stack up with better teams and if we can stay with them.”
Monday’s game against Michigan will start at 1 p.m. inside the U-M Soccer Stadium. The contest is part of a weekend in Ann Arbor that Michigan is dubbing the Labor Day Tournament. The Wolverines host Ivy League opponent Columbia on Saturday to kick off the weekend.