muscosportsphotos.com

Yale has stunned everyone in its 2019 record-breaking campaign. Ranked first in the Ivy League, the Bulldogs went undefeated in their opening 11 games for the first time since the 1935–36 team.

While the Elis’ success should be attributed to the team overall, midfielder Mark Winhoffer ’21 has shone especially bright this season, taking the mantle as the Elis’ prime creative focal point.

The junior playmaker has been an integral part of the Yale squad since he first arrived in New Haven. Despite already performing well in the last two years, Winhoffer has stepped his game up another level this season. With nine assists, Yale’s number 10 leads the Ivy League in that statistic — almost double that of second-place Ryan Clare. In addition, he has scored four goals as a midfielder, with two of them being game-winners. Winhoffer has already smashed his career high for goals in a season.

“It’s great to have individual success, but it means nothing without team success,” Winhoffer said. “Giving my teammates the opportunity to score gives us great opportunities to win games. But they are doing the hardest job in soccer, which is putting the ball in the back of the net.”

Health problems in his sophomore year curtailed Winhoffer’s appearance time, limiting the player to 13 appearances and six starts. However, the setback did not deter him and instead inspired the player coming into this campaign. Hard work in the off-season has proven to pay dividends this year, coinciding with Yale’s most successful season for decades.

Winhoffer has helped coordinate the majority of the team’s attacks and provided a creative spark when the players needed inspiration. At one point this season, Winhoffer led the nation in assists per game with a stunning 0.88 — almost guaranteeing a goal contribution every game.

Against Central Connecticut State, the Filipino international student’s ability to craft chances came to the fore. By bagging a hat trick of assists, Winhoffer helped his team to record a mammoth 4–0 victory — the biggest margin by which the Bulldogs have won so far this year. In addition, a virtuoso performance against Ivy League rival Dartmouth saw the midfielder whip a teasing free kick into the box for Enzo Okpoye ’22 to head home, before stunning the home crowd to curl a perfect corner into the Big Green’s goal.

“Mark is undoubtedly one of the most skillful players on the team. He is also one of the most valuable players on the team, adding to our game and mentality,” Lazaros Efthymiou ’22 said. “However, he is more than just a skillful player. He is one of the most hardworking players on the team; he motivates everyone during practice and games and keeps everyone accountable. We respect him a lot. In the dressing room, he is always playing music on the speakers, dancing and making jokes with everyone. He has definitely played a significant role in our team’s performances this year.”

Winhoffer’s rise to becoming one of the team’s leaders has made an obvious impact on the Bulldog’s fortunes. The midfield maestro has led by example, registering either a goal or assist in eight of his 13 appearances. To add to that, Winhoffer comes alive in conference play, with two goals and two assists in four games against Ivy League opposition. The Elis are now the frontrunners and one of the favorites to win this year’s Ancient Eight crown — a sizeable shock to those who voted in the preseason soccer poll, in which Yale wasn’t even in the top three.

“We don’t look at records,” Winhoffer added. “We look at how we are doing in training, how hard we are working and how we are bettering ourselves each day. Winning each day and embracing the process gives us the best chance of getting results.”

In a record-breaking season, the rising expectations do not seem to faze the midfielder, who keeps on delivering for his team. So long as the crafty playmaker continues to expertly provide his teammates with chances, as he has done for the whole season, then the Elis will be confident that they can go all the way.

Winhoffer and the Elis will head up to New York to face rival Columbia on Nov. 2.

Syimyk Kyshtoobaev | syimyk.kyshtoobaev@yale.edu