The Yale men’s soccer team enters 2016 coming off of two of its worst seasons in team history, with back-to-back one-win campaigns and a total of just 20 goals across 34 games. Given that baseline, a season-opening tie — on the road against a Big Ten school — was better news for the team than it may seem.
The Elis (0–0–1, 0–0–0 Ivy) played to a 2–2 draw at Michigan (0–1–3, 0–0–0 Big Ten) on Monday afternoon, marking just their third multi-goal game in their last 35 tries as a team. An eventful second half contained all four of the game’s goals, the last of which Yale scored with 12 minutes left in regulation to force a scoreless overtime.
“This was a great result and step forward for us,” forward Kyle Kenagy ’19 said. “We showed ourselves and everyone else that we can compete with some of the top teams in the country. I thought all the work we have put in during the offseason and preseason showed during this game, because I thought we were in a lot better shape than Michigan.”
Michigan, which fell 1–0 to Columbia on Saturday, fought Yale hard right from the start of Monday’s contest. The lack of goals in the game’s first half belied the intensity of its action, as the teams launched a combined nine shots and forced the goalies to make five saves. Despite those opportunities, the scoreboard was unchanged when the two teams headed into their locker rooms 45 minutes after the first whistle.
Thirteen minutes into the second half, the Bulldogs scored first, as defender and midfielder Ollie Iselin ’18 capitalized on a loose ball in the Wolverines’ box and sent the ball into the twine.
Michigan then turned a throw-in into a goal to tie the game, and less than three minutes later the Wolverines struck again to break the tie and gain their first lead of the game.
With Michigan holding all the momentum and just 18 minutes remaining in the contest, the chances of victory for the Elis seemed slim. But captain and defender Henry Flugstad-Clarke ’17 reversed the course of the game by finding another loose ball in front of goal and tallying the Bulldogs’ second goal to force overtime.
The first of two 10-minute overtime periods remained largely uneventful, as Michigan took the period’s only shot, which was blocked before it reached goal. In the second period Michigan launched one final offensive push, racking up two shots and a corner kick, but the Bulldogs held their line to keep the final score at 2–2.
“[I’m] really happy with the team and the team spirit we showed today,” Flugstad-Clarke said. “Everyone played really well, and it was a great team result.”
Yale’s talented young core was on display — this year, the team named seven underclassmen and just one senior to the starting roster. But the influence of that senior, Flugstad-Clarke, who missed the entirety of last season with a torn ACL, can hardly be overestimated.
“Having [Flugstad-Clarke] back playing gives us the leadership on the field that we need,” Kenagy said. “He is also without question our best defender.”
The game, held in Ann Arbor, was a return to the former home and conference of Yale head coach Kylie Stannard, who served as an assistant coach at Michigan State just two years ago. The trip north was also a homecoming for midfielder An Le ’19, who is from Portage, Michigan.
Le, who played just an hour and a half from the backyard he grew up practicing in, said the game was an unforgettable experience.
“It was a little strange being able to look up into the stand and see 20 family members and friends cheering us on,” Le said. “I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to come back and play in my home state during my four years here at Yale. It was definitely a special experience and one I’ll never forget.”
Yale returns home for a game against Sacred Heart on Saturday at 7 p.m.