Courtesy of Steve Musco

The Yale men’s soccer team will play its final game of the 2018–19 season in the friendly confines of Reese Stadium against Princeton this Saturday, looking for a win that would give the Elis their first winning season since 2011.

The Bulldogs (6–6–3, 1–3–2 Ivy) take on the Tigers (10–4–2, 5–0–1 Ivy) on Yale’s Senior Day. The Elis look to play spoiler on the Tigers’ unblemished conference record. Princeton has taken the Ancient Eight by storm this season, but leads second-place Columbia by only a point in the Ivy standings. This is a crucial game for both sides, despite Yale being out of NCAA Tournament contention for this season.

“The season had its ups and downs but overall didn’t go as well as we had hoped,” winger Logan Sullivan ’22 said. “It’s been good to gain experience this year and learn about college soccer, and going into the last game, we hope to knock off the potential Ivy League champions.”

The Yale vs. Princeton matchup last year was possibly the highlight of the season for the 2017–18 Yale squad. Both teams played tentatively in this final game, and it was no surprise that it took until overtime to separate the two sides. The extra period was an incredibly tense time, with Yale peppering the Princeton net with goal attempts. Then, in the 94th minute of play, midfielder Miguel Yuste ’20 found streaking striker Aldo Quevedo ’21 with a lobbed through ball. The Dallas native let it run across his body and then slotted a sizzling half-volley past the Princeton keeper to give the Elis the 1–0 win. The victory was an emotional end to the season that also gave Yale a share of third place in the Ivy League.

Yale’s year got off to an incredibly hot start, but the Bulldogs struggled to maintain their early season momentum as the season progressed. After a steady beginning to the season, the Bulldogs ignited an incendiary run in late September, achieving an unprecedented three-game winning streak. The boys in blue rocked Bryant to the tune of four goals, dispatched George Mason in front of a rowdy home crowd and scraped out a win versus Fairleigh Dickinson. While the rest of the season has lacked that level of dominance, the Bulldogs managed to best previously-ranked Cornell as well as Army in two straight games in mid-October for a crucial morale boost.

“The team is definitely disappointed not to have gotten more from the season, especially considering the quality we had,” forward John Leisman ’20 said. “That being said, we’ll be doing everything we can to end with a victory and to continue pushing the program forward.”

Meanwhile, Princeton is undoubtedly looking to cap off its strong season in New Haven this Saturday. The Tigers sit atop the Ivy League and have yet to endure a loss in conference play. The Orange and Black lost three of its first four games this year, a string of plays that did not indicate a successful season to come. But Princeton rebounded with poise, especially in its Ivy campaign. After a tense 2–2 draw with Dartmouth, the Tigers dismantled the rest of their conference opposition. A major highlight was its dominant 2–0 away victory over then-No. 22 Cornell.

This matchup will be poignant for Yale’s nine seniors, as Saturday marks the last time they don the blue and white for the home crowd at Reese. Captain and defender Cameron Riach ’19 will be leaving huge shoes to fill in the back. The team leader has been a stalwart on defense for the Bulldogs, playing in nearly 60 games over his four years. Midfielder Nicky Downs ’19 also leaves behind a legacy of brilliant passing and clinical finishing. Winger Lucas Kirby ’19 has been a mainstay for Elis out wide, swinging in dangerous crosses and setting up teammates for the majority of his Yale career. Striker Kyle Kenagy ’19 produced a resurgent final year in terms of goal scoring and is looking to cap off his successful season with another shot that finds the back of the net.

“The team is excited to play the last game of the season and last game for the seniors on Reese in front of our fans, friends and family,” striker Paolo Carroll ’22 said. “We are playing against a solid Princeton side who are challenging for the championship. We expect a good game, and we are going for the win. We will continue working and building as the team has the quality to be fighting for a championship and even more.”

Princeton’s offense has played a pivotal role in its dominant season. The Tigers saw multiple players get on the score sheet in 2018, but a few are responsible for most of the attacks. Forward Jeremy Colvin leads the team with five goals, while midfielder Sean McSherry has four goals and four assists. The scoring production does not end there, as midfielder Kevin O’Toole and forward Gaby Paniagua both lay claim to four goals each.

Still, Yale’s defense, who needs to be ready to withstand the fiery Princeton offense, proved its ability to wall up this season. The Bulldogs saw the crucial return of defender Will Emerson ’20, who was sidelined with an injury for most of this season, in its recent game against Brown. The towering center back was off to a flying start this season, recording a goal against Michigan State before suffering an injury. Defender Jeremy Haddock ’22 stepped up for the Bulldogs in his absence, playing well in the back and even scoring a crucial goal against Cornell.

Princeton’s defense has also been ironclad this season, sporting a .633 goals-against-average. The Defenders Bobby Hickson and Richard Wolf lead the Tigers in the back with the latter receiving a spot on the All-Ivy Second Team last season. Goalkeeping has also been instrumental for the Princeton Tigers. Goalkeeper Jacob Schachner has started 14 games for Princeton this season, registering 36 saves this year. The Princeton defense keeps Schachner protected, but he has managed a respectable .783 save percentage. The junior also sports a 9–4–1 record when starting in net.

The Bulldogs put a bow on the season against Princeton at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Reese Stadium.

Eamonn Smith | .