Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Though the cancellation of the fall 2020 season was disappointing for all involved, the men’s soccer class of 2021 can leave Yale with their heads held high as reigning Ivy League champions.

The fall 2019 season was historic for the Yale squad, which earned the Ivy League title for the first time since 2005. The team rounded out the season with 13 victories out of 18 matches, matching the 1999 school record for most wins in a single season and the 1989 team for best conference record. Though six team members were originally in the class of 2021, only midfielder and captain Mark Winhoffer ’21 will graduate this spring after playing an essential role in the team’s 2019 success

“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.”

Every season since Stannard began coaching, the Bulldogs have improved their record. In the two seasons prior to his arrival, the Bulldogs won a total of five games. Though Stannard’s high standards for athlete commitment was met with mixed feedback in his first season, he has undoubtedly created a culture of excellence within the men’s soccer program. In 2019, Stannard was unanimously named Ivy League Coach of the Year for the first time in his Yale career. 

Similarly for the players, there was no shortage of Ivy League honors in 2019. Winhoffer was awarded the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year title and was selected for the Ivy League First Team alongside three of his teammates — goalkeeper Elian Haddock ’23, midfielder Enzo Okpoye ’22 and 2019 captain and midfielder Miguel Yuste ’20. The four first team All-Ivy selections were the most in school history. Defender Justin Lobe ’20 and midfielder Ryan Matteo ’20 also received Second Team honors. 

“Winning the Ivy League at home was particularly special because it was the last guaranteed home game for our seniors, who’ve been instrumental to the team’s success this year,” Okpoye said in a November 2019 interview. “As a central defender, I don’t get to be in scoring positions except on set pieces, so I have to be very clinical when I get a chance in front of goal. Last night’s goal was no different than the ones I scored in previous games — it was the product of a concerted effort by the entire team. I’m just grateful to be the one who got to put the ball in the back of the net.”

The 2019 season was marked by impressive individual contributions by players, as Yale men dominated the Ivy League in a variety of statistics. Yuste and Winhoffer topped the Ancient Eight in goals and assists, respectively, with Yuste scoring eight goals in the season’s competitions. Okpoye tied for first in the game-winning goals metric, netting three crucial goals over the course of the season. 

After winning the Ivy League, the Elis went on to play in the NCAA tournament. In the first round, they fell against Boston College in a tough matchup. Though the Blue and White had hoped to progress further, their participation was an achievement in and of itself, being the first Yale squad to qualify for the NCAA tournament in 14 years. 

As the sole graduating senior, Winhoffer can leave Yale with the pride of this historic season behind him. 

“As the captain, it has been an incredible honor to wear the Y and bring Yale soccer back to the top. It was a special group and a historic season,” Yuste said. “The Ivy League title, Yale’s NCAA first appearance in so many years, and tying the record of wins in program history is something that will always be there to look back on and it could not have been written better. Our senior night against Brown when the referee blew the whistle was such a special moment, in front of our families and friends. We definitely left the jersey in a better place and I’m always proud to be a bulldog.”

Yale’s winning percentage of 0.824 at the end of the 2019 season was 13th best in the nation.