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After claiming its first outright Ivy League title since 1991, Yale men’s soccer returns from a 21-month hiatus with high expectations and fresh talent. With a combination of veteran leaders from the championship squad and a host of new players, the team will don the Blue and White for the first time since Nov. 21, 2019 this Friday against Fairfield University.

Picked first in the Ivy’s preseason poll, Yale enters the season as the favorite to win the Ivy League and defend its title. Key leaders from the 2019 championship squad, such as Enzo Okpoye ’22, Paolo Carroll ’23, Jeremy Haddock ’23 and captain Elian Haddock ’23, return to lead Yale and its strong contingent of young players. TopDrawer Soccer ranked Yale’s 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes the 16th and 20th best incoming classes in NCAA Division I men’s soccer, respectively.

The first matchup of the 2021 campaign arrives this Friday as the Bulldogs travel south on I-95 to face off against Fairfield. When the Elis last played the Stags, defender Jeremy Haddock notched the only goal as he slotted a header past the opposing goalkeeper early in the second half, sealing a 1–0 victory. This Friday’s nonconference matchup is the first of seven to be played before the Ivy schedule begins on Oct. 2nd against Harvard.

“I think all the Ivy Leagues are in a tough spot with really having a lot of uncertainties with what their team looks like,” head coach Kylie Stannard said. “But that doesn’t change our standards and expectations. We are going to hopefully ride the momentum of the 2019 season, and we have a great core returning, but we have a really young roster now all of a sudden as well.”

Since taking over the program in 2014, Stannard has elevated the Elis to prominence both within the Ivy League and at the national level.

After winning the Ancient Eight in 2019, the Bulldogs made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005, falling to Boston College 3–0 in the first round. In a notable upcoming nonconference game, the Bulldogs will face off against the Eagles on Sep. 21 in a rematch of the game that marked their final competition prior to the pandemic.

Other key nonconference matchups include trips to University of Akron — a national powerhouse and 2018 national champion currently ranked No. 19 — as well as University of New Hampshire, ranked No.14.

These early season matchups against strong sides such as Akron will prove especially challenging for the Bulldogs, as many of their nonconference opponents engaged in competition last spring. While soccer teams in some other conferences played full spring schedules, Ivy League athletics remained sidelined due to the pandemic.

“We always know, as an Ivy League program, we’re kind of a bit of an underdog. We’re always playing a little bit of catch up,” Stannard said when asked about the lack of a spring season. “We embrace that, and it doesn’t deter our confidence in what we stand for.”

Although the strong slate of returning players helps create some continuity for the Elis, almost half of the team’s roster is composed of first-year players. With 13 first years on a roster of 29 total players, the team will rely on the experience and knowledge of its returning players as it attempts to build upon the 2019 season and fill gaps left by graduates such as Mark Winhoffer ’21 and Miguel Yuste ’20.

Stannard said the emphasis throughout preseason has been on instilling the team’s values and culture in the new members. By cultivating a cohesive and unified team environment, Stannard and his veteran leaders hope to build a resilient team capable of weathering the ups and downs of the three-month season.

“​​It has been fun and interesting integrating a huge group of new players into the team,” forward Carroll said. “There are 15+ players that have never played a D1 soccer match. We have done a ton of team-building activities and sessions to introduce them to what our team culture is about and the way we want to behave and act — on and off the pitch.”

One of the team’s strongest sources of leadership comes from captain and goalkeeper Elian Haddock. The Wisconsin native cemented his status as a top goalie during the Bulldogs’ successful 2019 campaign as he played alongside his brother Jeremy, who is a defender.

In his second season in 2019, Elian Haddock started all 18 games and secured five shutouts. He also posted a goals against average of 0.75 and a save percentage of 0.794, two marks which ranked 16th and 20th in the nation, respectively. As a team, the Elis posted seven total shutouts en route to a final record of 13–3–2. Additionally, the team set a program record by opening the season with an 11-game unbeaten streak.

Elian Haddock will have plenty of support from Okpoye, who is the sole senior on the team, and six other juniors, including his brother. The two Haddocks co-captained their high school team, making them familiar with leading together. Last year, Elian Haddock took a full-year leave of absence and worked at a venture capital company while training with Manhattan SC in USL League Two.

Yale and Fairfield kick off at 7 p.m. this Friday.