After a 1–0 victory over Hartford on Wednesday night, the Yale men’s soccer team will hit the road on Saturday, traveling to Burlington to take on Vermont in its first away game of the season.
The Bulldogs (2–1–0, 0–0–0 Ivy) defended Reese Stadium fairly well in their first three matches of the season, losing only to Fairleigh Dickinson in the season opener. However, defeating the Catamounts (2–2–0, 0–0, America East) could pose a sizable challenge to the Elis, as Vermont opened its own season with a convincing 4–1 win over Hartwick. After struggling in its following two games, Vermont bounced back to claim a shutout of its own on Sunday against Niagara.
“The main thing is to keep our momentum and keep on how we’ve been playing,” defender Justin Lobe ’20 said. “[We need to] keep a strong defense without letting in goals. I think with the way we’ve been playing and scoring so far, we can do that again Saturday.”
Although Saturday’s contest marks Yale’s third game in just six days, head coach Kylie Stannard said the intense preseason prepares the players for such quick turnarounds. The Elis also appear to have learned from their costly mistakes in the season opener, with noticeable improvements on both Sunday and Wednesday. The Bulldogs tightened up their play in the backfield and eliminated errors that on Friday resulted in goals, Stannard said.
Both Bulldog victories, a 3–0 drubbing against Howard and a 1–0 win over the Hawks, came as shutouts fueled by stellar defensive play. Although the Bulldogs held a three-goal lead against the Bison after just 35 minutes, they continued to fight through extremely wet conditions. Howard’s counterattacks were strong, but an unwavering Yale defense allowed just two shots on goal.
Hartford proved to be a much more formidable opponent for Yale in its Wednesday night contest, but the defense continued to smother all attacks made on its net. The Bulldogs limited the Hawks to just six shots in 90 minutes while bombarding them with 12 of their own, continuing a trend that has already been evident this season.
“Two shutouts in the last two games is a huge positive for the team,” forward John Leisman ’20 said. “Organized defending is something that we focus on in training, so credit to the guys for staying disciplined and putting in the work.”
Leisman scored the only goal of Wednesday’s game during the final five minutes of the first half. Fellow forward Mark Winhoffer ’21 saw him on the far side of the field and fired a pass once he beat his defender. From there, Leisman chipped in the goal to reclaim his perch atop the team point leaderboard.
To land a road win on Saturday, Yale’s defense will need to focus on shutting down Vermont’s leading scorers in forwards Geo Alves and Tom Cole. In just four games, Alves has tallied four goals and an assist and leads the team in total points, most recently insuring its 2–0 win over Niagara with a late goal. For his part, Cole assisted on two of Alves’ goals and added one of his own during the Catamounts’ season opener against Hartwick.
On the other side of the field, Yale’s offense must continue to make complete plays — the Elis learned on Friday against the Knights, controlling the ball may not be enough to earn a win. Yale forwards like Leisman, Nicky Downs ’19 and Winhoffer will need to take advantage of any and all shot opportunities against seasoned sophomore goaltender in Vermont’s Aron Runarsson. Though only at the start of his second year in net, Runarsson already boasts 16 starts for the Catamounts from last season, when he finished as the fifth-ranked goalie in the America East Conference as a rookie.
After qualifying for the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons and snatching a 2016 tournament win from Rider, Vermont remains a tough opponent for the Bulldogs. According to Stannard, the Elis will need to maintain emphasis and concentration on their own play both offensively and defensively to see success this weekend.
“Our complete focus is on Vermont and we’ll approach them with the same mentality that we’ve had for our prior games,” Leisman said. “Specific tactical details are always subject to change, but the mindset moving forward will remain the same.”
Yale kicks off play against the Catamounts on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Virtue Field.
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