Heading into Wednesday night’s game, the Elis had reached the lowest point of their season, a four-game losing skid. But against St. Joseph’s, things seemed to click as the Bulldogs thrashed the Hawks 3–1 in their last nonconference tilt. Now, the team prepares to return to the Ivies to take on Brown, which sits one place ahead of the Elis in the standings.
In the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Yale (3–9–2, 1–3–1 Ivy) found itself in the Ivy League cellar, finishing last in the conference in consecutive years. This season, the team has already begun to chart a different course: Currently, the Bulldogs are tied with Princeton for sixth place.
The Elis now roll into the Saturday’s game against Brown (7–7–1, 2–2–1) with the momentum of a comeback victory. Should they manage to win back-to-back games for the first time since Sept. 14 and 16 of 2012, the Elis would vault into fifth place in the Ivies.
“It feels great to get a convincing win against a good team like St. Joseph’s,” midfielder Josh Totte ’18 said. “It gives us great momentum against Brown, a team we played tough last year and really feel confident against.”
St. Joseph’s jumped to an early lead when defender Mike Stuski sent a header off of a cross toward goal. The shot ricocheted off a Yale defender, careened off the post and just barely crossed the goal line for the game’s first score.
Having lost four games in a row, the Elis’ hopes of mounting a comeback seemed bleak. But the team demonstrated its mettle from the moment after the game’s ensuing tap, when defender Ryan Matteo ’20 sent a driven pass into the left corner of the field.
Defender Justin Lobe ’20 controlled the pass with his first touch and lofted a cross with his second. St. Joseph’s goalie, Jay Higbee, misjudged the cross and could do nothing but reach as it flew over his head. Defender Henry Flugstad-Clarke ’17 capitalized on the goalie’s error and smashed a header home only five minutes after St. Joseph’s goal.
The game was then tied 1–1, but Yale was not done. Just under nine minutes later, the Bulldogs claimed their first lead. Kyle Kenagy ’19 received the ball just a few yards into the opposing half and dashed down the sideline. Running with the ball, he outpaced his defender, dribbling until he was parallel with the box. He sent a cross through the 18, which midfielder John Leisman ’20 controlled with the outside of his foot and toe-poked a split-second later. The move caught the goalie off guard, and the ball slipped between his legs and into the back of the net.
The half ended with Yale on top 2–1 and owning all the momentum. And, less than three minutes after the half’s starting whistle, the Bulldogs struck again.
Midfielder Nicky Downs ’19 carried the ball from the field’s left flank to the center and sent a pass to the far right side of the field. Totte received the pass and immediately sent the ball back to Downs, who both received the ball and sent a curling shot with the outside of the right foot. The shot bent into the lower left hand corner of the goal, and the outstretched keeper had no chance.
After two one-win seasons, the Elis entered this year with improvement on their minds, and the team has demonstrated its growth in flashes — besting Sacred Heart, to whom Yale fell in a heartbreaking double overtime loss in 2015, and crushing Cornell 3–0 for their first Ivy League win in two years, in addition to last night’s victory.
Yale’s three wins this season are already more than the previous two combined, and that improvement is accompanied by a greater goals per-game percentage, as well as a lower goals allowed rate. These forward steps could turn into leaps if Yale beats Brown this weekend.
“It’d be a big step finishing higher up in the table,” Totte said. “It shows that we are improving and taking the right steps forward toward our ultimate goal of winning the Ivy title.”
But in order to emerge victorious against the Bears, Yale will have to mitigate the offensive efforts of Brown’s top goal-scoring threat, Matthew Chow, whose six goals are fourth in the Ivy League, as well as the Bears’ creative engine, Nico Lozada, who leads the league in assists.
Stannard also noted that the Elis will have to be aware of Brown’s physical style of play.
“Brown has historically been one of the dominant teams in the Ivy League, so they are always talented and very tough,” Stannard said. “They are a competitive and physical team but also have some dynamic attacking players, so they have a pretty good balance. Like us, they have played a very challenging schedule, and both teams will be hungry to get a result in the league.”
For Yale, Downs has provided a similar role as Lozada. He leads the team in assists, with five, and is tied for second in the league. Downs’ set pieces have emerged as a legitimate threat, accruing three of his assists off of dead balls and scoring a goal on a penalty kick.
“I think this year has definitely been an improvement from last season; with two Ivy games left, we hope to take a few more steps forward and definitely think we can do that against Brown,” Downs said. “We hope to end the year on a high note and get a few more positive results. We have done some good things this year and want to continue to make progress these last two games.”
Yale will face Brown at 7 p.m. on Saturday.