In 2015, the Yale men’s soccer team performed at a level not seen in Bulldog history since before the Great Depression. Two consecutive one-win seasons, including a combined 0–11–3 Ivy record, has left Yale decidedly out of the conference championship picture.
But this year, things seem different. Now, with a complete season under the belt of second-year head coach Kylie Stannard, the incorporation of a talented freshman class and a preseason focused on positivity, the one-win seasons of years past seem far behind the team.
“We definitely feel like a different team this year,” midfielder Lucas Kirby ’19 said. “We continue to get better and grow closer as a unit with every training session, team activity and game. We have taken a far more positive approach this year, and the results show in the locker room and on the field.”
In the season opener against the Michigan Wolverines, the Elis (0–0–1, 0–0 Ivy) provided a sampling of why things may be different this season.
After a scoreless first half, Yale and Michigan exchanged a pair of second-half goals en route to a 2–2 tie. Though Yale was unable to kick the season off with a victory, there were definitive positives, such as the team’s two goals. Over the past two seasons, the Bulldogs had only scored two or more goals on two occasions.
“A great result away at Michigan marked a tangible result of our hard work,” Kirby said. “[We’re looking] to build on that success in the coming weeks before Ivy League play.”
Kirby is one of a crop of returning sophomores that impressed in their freshman campaigns. Last year’s freshmen scored seven of the team’s 13 goals. Meanwhile, the senior class scored just one goal.
This year, the freshmen once again seem poised to make an immediate impact. Seven of the 10 freshmen found themselves on the field during the season opener, and four started. The freshman presence was highlighted by an assist each from defender Will Emerson ’20 and midfielder Addison Luck ’20 on the team’s first two goals of the season.
“Not only are the freshmen immediately impacting our level of play on the field, but they also bring so much enthusiasm, competitiveness and positivity to the team,” Kirby said. “They sense the opportunity that we have to shock the league and to continue building the program. Watching how excited the freshmen are to wear the Yale men’s soccer jersey and to represent this amazing university has helped invigorate a team that has experienced some trying times in the past couple seasons.”
In addition to a solid freshman class, the Elis are reintroducing defender Henry Flugstad-Clarke ’17 to the starting lineup after he missed all of last season with a torn ACL. One game into the season and the Bulldogs have already received a boost from his return, as he scored the game-tying goal against Michigan.
Flugstad-Clarke’s presence on the back line provides the team a two-way player and a seasoned leader on a team full of youth.
“More than anything [Flugstad-Clarke] is a huge presence on the field for us,” midfielder Nicky Downs ’19 said. “We all have huge confidence knowing he is in the back as our enforcer, not to mention he is good on the ball and can start the build from the back and settle the game. His return this season will change the dynamic of our team to be honest, having both a leader and top player as one of our center backs makes such a massive difference on both sides of the ball.”
Flugstad-Clarke is one of only four seniors on the roster, and was the lone member of the class of 2017 to start against Michigan. Midfielder Dylan Onderdonk-Snow ’17 and defender Max Cook ’17 each came off the bench versus the Wolverines, while goalkeeper Ryan Simpson ’17 will battle Kees Schipper ’19, who played all 110 minutes in the team’s first game, for time in net.
Next on the schedule for the Elis is Sacred Heart, whom Yale lost to on a heartbreaking penalty kick in the second overtime in last year’s season opener. This year, the Bulldogs enter the game coming off of a result they are proud of, but the team is doing its best to keep expectations in check.
“Going on the road and getting a result against a Big Ten team is great for your confidence but we’re still treating it like any other game,” striker Ollie Iselin ’18 said. “The team is obviously happy with the result but we know it’s the start of a long season.”
The ball will kick off at 7 p.m. on Saturday between Yale and Sacred Heart from Reese Stadium.