Steve Musco

After making incremental improvements over the past few campaigns, the Yale men’s soccer team looked to get off to a strong start in its first two contests of the season. But even after a clinical performance in their season opener, the Elis reverted back to last year’s habit of letting games slip away in the final minutes of play.

The Bulldogs (1–1–0, 0–0–0 Ivy) kicked off the 2018–2019 campaign when they hosted Niagara (1–3–0, 0–0–0 MAAC) and Fairfield (1–2–0, 0–0–0 MAAC). The pair of matches ended in a split for the Elis: a 1–0 victory over the Purple Eagles and a 2–1 loss against the Stags.

“We dictated the [Niagra] game from the start and really set the tone with our defensive work rate,” head coach Kylie Stannard said. “When we can do that, we are also going to control possession and create excellent attacking chances. We certainly played well and created the chances to score more goals. One-goal games are always interesting at the end.”

Despite having to play their first few home games at the Quinnipiac Soccer and Lacrosse Stadium, the Elis looked hungry and unfazed in their season opener against Niagara on Saturday. The final result read 1–0 in favor of Yale, but that score did not illustrate the team’s dominance for the entire duration of the contest.

The Bulldogs created numerous chances and outshot the Purple Eagles by a whopping 19–3. The game’s only score came roughly halfway through the first 45 minutes of play when forward Kyle Kenagy ’19 fired a shot that rebounded off of the right post. However, Niagara goalkeeper Steve Casey managed to keep the game close by tallying eight spectacular saves.

Yale’s defense suffocated the Purple Eagle offense, as goalkeeper Tom Wallenstein ’21 was only forced to make one save for the shutout. First years Logan Sullivan ’22, Enzo Okpoye ’22 and Paolo Carroll ’22 made their first career appearances in the blue and white. Forward Robert Mooney ’19, a member of the national champion Yale men’s lacrosse team, also contributed minutes off the bench in his debut game.

The Elis used the momentum from Saturday’s win to propel themselves to a strong first half against Fairfield on Monday evening. Despite creating six scoring attempts, Yale only managed to put one away when Carroll received a long ball into the box from forward John Leisman ’20, powered through the Stag defense and buried a shot past goalkeeper Gordon Botterill. Fairfield had a chance to score to close out the first half, but midfielder Lucas Kirby ’19 was able to head the ball off the line to prevent the rebound from rippling the back of the net.

“Our back line has a lot of experience playing together, so we know each other’s habits and tendencies well,” defender and captain Cameron Riach ’19 said. “We’re fully focused on continuing our form.”

But in a manner eerily similar to the losses suffered last year against Harvard University and Lafayette College, the Bulldogs fell apart in the second 45 minutes of play. The second half saw the emergence of the strong and focused Stag squad that coach Carl Rees has led to five MAAC Championships during his tenure.

The Elis applied pressure early on, but momentum shifted toward Fairfield as a pair of close chances in the 49th and 52nd minute shocked some life into the Stag offense. Yale retaliated on the counter as Kenagy sped past two defenders as a lone wolf and fired off a shot from the right side that whistled wide.

It was Fairfield, though, that found the tying goal. In the 56th minute, Jonathan Filipe headed a curling cross from the right side into the back of the net.

By the end of the night, the Stags had found a winner as well. As the clock wound down, midfielder Diego Casielles fired a shot from the left that whipped into the bottom right corner of the goal after the his teammates connected a series of short passes in the box.

While the Elis rallied in the final 10  minutes, they could not find the back of the net and walked away on the wrong end of a 2–1 scoreline.

“Despite the result, I thought we played very well,” Kenagy said. “We can learn a lot from this game, and I have no doubt it will make us stronger going forward with our season.”

In the first half, Carroll sent a beautiful cross center of goal that Kenagy directed into the net with a powerful header, but the referee nullified it with a controversial offside call.

Kenagy also was chopped down in the box during the first half, but the official opted not to award a penalty. In the end, the Bulldogs outshot the Stags 13–7 and led in corner kicks 9–3 but couldn’t convert those chances into goals.

“We had a dominating first 45 minutes with a clear penalty call missed and a goal called back,” Stannard said. “I couldn’t have been much happier with our first half.  I still think we played well overall in the second half, but Fairfield was an NCAA tournament team last year for a reason, and they did a good job of keeping their composure and were incredibly efficient with their two shots on goal.”

The Elis will travel to Washington, D.C. to take on Howard this Friday.

Cris Zillo | cristofer.zillo@yale.edu

Cate Sawkins | cate.sawkins@yale.edu