Three years ago, head coach Kylie Stannard inherited a Yale men’s soccer team coming off its worst season in the program’s 109-year history. After finishing with a 1–13–3 mark, including a winless record in conference play, longtime head coach Brian Tompkins retired, and Stannard was hired away from Michigan State in December 2014.

The early goings of Stannard’s tenure were as inauspicious as his predecessor’s final season. The Bulldogs only emerged victorious in one match, a 3–2 win over Quinnipiac, and several players decided to leave the team following the conclusion of the 2015 season. In 2016, a more youthful Yale squad matched its season point total from the prior year in its first two games but ultimately finished with an overall record of 3–10–3, tallying just a single victory against Ivy League competition.

“It’s great that a lot of the younger guys were able to get experience last year,” midfielder Josh Totte ’18 said. “It gives us a lot of confidence in each other and belief in the younger guys to perform. There’s no substitute for experience … so they will be ready to have a great impact this season.”

As the Elis embark on the 2017 campaign, the squad is laden with a crop of experienced sophomores and juniors. Coupled with a nationally-ranked incoming recruiting class, the program appears to be trending upwards. Though they may not contend for an Ancient Eight title this season, the team may be closer than ever before under its third-year head coach.

Yale’s young nucleus of talented and experienced players will be responsible for replacing the loss of former captain and defender Henry Flugstad-Clarke ’17, the team’s leading scorer from last season, whose performance earned him second team All-Ivy accolades. The Morristown, New Jersey, native was the only senior to start more than three games in 2016.

The team is likely in good hands: Last season, nine upperclassmen started at least 10 games for the Bulldogs, including midfielder Nicky Downs ’19 and forward John Leisman ’20, the two of whom combined to net six goals.

Downs, the Elis’ only returning All-Ivy selection, will be expected to anchor the center of the pitch alongside fellow midfielder and captain Archie Kinnane ’18. During his career in New Haven, Kinnane has appeared in 45 games, including 13 starts last season, and also received the team’s most valuable player award in 2015. Kinnane is just one of three current seniors on the Bulldogs’ roster, although each one played in at least 14 games last season.

Also returning is goalie Kees Schipper ’19, who tallied the majority of time in net last season en route to maintaining a 1.67 goals against average and posting two clean sheets. His 6-foot-4 frame will give the Elis a large, physical presence in net and an effective shot-stopper.

“As a junior with two years of experience, I have to be as reliable as possible in the back so as to give my backline some confidence in the goalkeeping position,” Schipper said. “[I want] to limit mistakes so that we don’t give up any soft goals. As far as more tangible goals go, I’m aiming for a goals per game ratio of less than one.”

Complementing Yale’s experienced group of sophomores and juniors will be a set of six first-year players ranked the 23rd best recruiting class in the nation by TopDrawerSoccer.com, a first-time accomplishment for the program. One of the highest ranked recruits is forward and midfielder DJ Palmer ’21. In his senior season at the Peddie School in Manahawkin, New Jersey, Palmer propelled his team to a Mid-Atlantic Prep League championship and also garnered NSCAA All-America recognition.

The Bulldogs will also bring in players with a wealth of international experience. Goalkeeper Tom Wallenstein ’21, a native of Leipzig, Germany, helped lead his club team to a Youth Bundesliga North/Northeast title. Additionally, midfielder Mark Winhoffer ’21 has experience with the Philippine National Team at a host of age levels and has also been called up to the men’s national team twice.

“I think our class is a very special class for this program,” defender Jack Arnold ’21 said. “I believe we bring versatility to the team along with confidence in our own areas of expertise. Although young, we have all played at one of the highest levels in America and some of us overseas. It has been a challenge so far to adjust to the college game, but I think that once we get some game time and experience under our belt, we can really help our team move forward and win an Ivy League Championship.”

Yale will open its season with a three-game homestand that includes Fairleigh Dickinson, Howard and Hartford in the friendly confines of Reese Stadium. The Bulldogs will then embark on a four-game road trip spanning from Vermont to California highlighted by a Sunday matinee versus two-time defending national champion Stanford on September 17.

Yale begins conference play with a game against perennial rival Harvard before taking on 2016 Ivy League champion Dartmouth in the following contest.

Joey Kammjoseph.kamm@yale.edu