Courtesy of muscosportsphotos.com

In three short years with the Bulldogs, Yale men’s soccer captain and midfielder Mark Winhoffer ’21 has taken his team to the top of the Ivy League.

In his first fall at Yale, the Bulldogs struggled in a transitory season, posting two wins in the Ivy League and finishing fourth in the Ancient Eight. Yale finished under .500 for the sixth consecutive season, but showed significant improvement over a pair of one-win seasons in 2014 and 2015. Less than two years later, Winhoffer was leading the attack for the Ivy League champions, earning the title of Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year in the process.

Even now, amid strict social distancing guidelines and minimal time on the field, Winhoffer is focused on the program’s success. Although he will miss his chance to win back-to-back championships, he envisions long-term success for the Bulldogs.

“I think when I first got here as a first year it was more of a social club, and I think [men’s soccer head] coach [Kylie] Stannard over the years has turned it into a very serious program with really high ambitions,” Winhoffer said. “Now after winning the Ivy League, we want to be a staple winning the Ivy League just like [men’s] lacrosse, and obviously move forward to be a national perennial powerhouse.”

Following the 2015 season, Stannard’s first at the helm, at least five players left the program. Stannard brought “high expectations and demands” for his entire roster, as he told the News that winter, and a level of competitive intensity to which some players had not been accustomed.

By the time Winhoffer enrolled, Stannard’s transition was fully underway.

Hungry for success, Winhoffer has always been dedicated to his craft. He began playing at the age of 9, influenced by his father and brother, who both played collegiate soccer. He progressed through the various tiers of the sport with his friends, from club, to high school and to Yale. In addition to his obvious talent and passion for the game, Winhoffer said “getting a very good education was always on [his] mind.” Winhoffer said he chose Yale as the place to further his soccer career while pursuing his interest in economics.

As a first year, Winhoffer averaged 40 minutes a game, scoring one goal in his debut season across 16 matches. As the only rookie to feature in every game, he showed signs of promise but was inhibited during part of his second season due to health problems. That fall, the Bulldogs finished 7–6–3.

Things changed for Winhoffer and for Yale at the start of the 2019 season. Winhoffer flew out of the gates with seven assists in the first seven games. He dominated the midfield, always finding pockets of space to help build in the attack. Over the course of the season, he started 17 of 18 games — playing nearly every minute — and helped create 17 goals in the process.

With a tally of six goals and 11 assists, Winhoffer was truly a force to be reckoned with on the pitch last fall. Given Winhoffer’s quick feet and good awareness, the opposing defenders never knew if Yale’s number 10 would set up a teammate in front of goal or cut inside for a shot himself.

“Performing at such a high level every session and every game is very hard to do, and doing this last season is what allowed [him] and the team to perform so well last year,” Stannard said. “More specifically, he has become a consistent specialist with his set piece service and free kicks which resulted in many goals for us last year.”

The Bulldogs won six and lost one in the Ivy League on their way to becoming conference champions for the first time since 2005. The whole team performed well throughout the course of the season, but Winhoffer’s contributions were crucial to this turnaround.

Winhoffer has contributed not only to the team’s success on the field but also to Yale’s soccer program as a whole. His actions on and off the field have received high praise from his coaches. 

“Most importantly, Mark takes responsibility and is accountable to himself and the team which is critical for any leader, and I greatly appreciate this from him,” Stannard said. “Additionally, Mark brings a true passion and love for the game and for competing. He loves training as much as he loves playing and that’s really hard to find. When you have your captain that leads by example with his pure love and joy for the game and for working hard to improve every day, it raises the level of everyone else on the team and helps to improve the culture we want in the program.”

Winhoffer said maintaining good health — from both a public health and fitness standpoint — is his top priority, but the captain wants his team to remain close in spite of the obstacles.

Without a season this fall, Winhoffer’s next high-level competition may occur for the Philippines national team. He said he is currently preparing for a potential call-up in March, when qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup resume.

In February 2019, Winhoffer joined the Philippines National Under-23 team at the ASEAN Football Federation U-23 Championship in Cambodia.

Rehan Melwani | rehan.melwani@yale.edu