The Yale women’s soccer team fell 2–0 to No. 7 Princeton and skidded to its fourth consecutive winless outing, a stark contrast to its season-opening six-game win streak.
The Bulldogs (6–3–1, 0–1–0 Ivy) entered the fixture on the back of an unexpected home draw against Colorado College (3–4–3, 0–1–1 SCAC) and a road defeat against University of Massachusetts (4–5–1, 1–1–0 Colonial) respectively, while No. 7 Princeton (8–1–0, 1–0–0) came in with widespread national recognition for its superb start. Needing a bounce-back win, the Elis failed to score for the second game running and allowed the Tigers to take the early-season reins in the Ancient Eight title chase.
“I think a lot of [our recent poor form] is mental,” midfielder Noelle Higginson ’20 said. “We started the season strong, but we have had a little bit of a dip in the past few weeks. We’re unhappy not beating Princeton, but playing-wise, it’s been better than it has been, and if we follow that upward trend, we can begin to enjoy playing and winning again.”
Yale started in a 3-5-2 formation with two holding midfielders in the hopes of neutralizing a Princeton offense built to score headers off crosses. By employing two dedicated wingbacks in Mackenzie Marsh ’19 and Brittany Simpson ’19, the Elis planned to have permanent cover out wide that could also turn into attacking width. However, the Tigers’ composed build-up play penned the wingbacks into a deeper defensive position.
Without offensive outlets in the wide positions, the Bulldogs’ defensive midfielders could only look for Higginson as a short option in the attacking midfield or send searching long balls over the top for forwards Michelle Alozie ’19 and Aerial Chavarin ’20.
Meanwhile, Princeton gallivanted through the stretched Eli midfield. Using a high press, the Tigers constricted Yale’s passing lanes and exacerbated the tactical issues in the Bulldogs’ formation.
In the 14th minute, showcasing impressive strength, junior forward Mimi Asom, a two-time Second Team All-Ivy honoree, held off almost the entire Yale defense as she rolled the ball across the top of the 18-yard box, before turning and unleashing an unstoppable curler into the top left corner. The half ended 1–0 with the Bulldogs able to muster just a single shot compared to six in total for the Tigers.
In the second half the Elis switched formation to a 3–4–3 to create more natural wide play and give the wingbacks support. While it did not yield dividends on the scoresheet, this shift immediately perked up the Yale offense. Particularly in the last 20 minutes of the match, the Bulldogs moved the game into Princeton’s half and played with a sense of urgency that was lacking in recent fixtures.
“We made a conscious effort of keeping the ball better,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “We said, ‘Listen, they are not Stanford,’ and that mindset helped us in the second half.”
The Elis’ offensive elan left more space for Princeton to counterattack, but Asom’s failure to release the ball to her teammates killed a number of chances. However, when the Tigers finally capitalized on the opportunities afforded by Yale’s search for an equalizer, it was Asom’s intelligent positioning in the box that froze the Bulldogs’ center backs, allowing freshman forward Olivia Kane to connect with a low cross from senior co-captain Vanessa Gregoire for a simple tap-in in the 85th minute.
Although it did not yield the result Yale sought, the match featured signs of life in a recently moribund attack and also revealed a desire to win that was missing in the Elis’ final nonconference matches. This weekend, the Bulldogs take on Harvard, who lost last weekend to Penn.
“We need to refocus,” midfielder Keri Cavallo ’19 said. “It was a tough loss, and we can’t let that weigh on our performance against Harvard. We still have a whole season to play, so we can’t dwell on this loss.”
Yale hosts Harvard at Reese Field on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Caleb Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org