After splitting games against Fairfield and Villanova over the weekend, the Yale men’s soccer team returns to the Elm City for its first home game of the season against UMass Lowell.

Yale (1–1–0, 0–0–0 Ivy) enters the season with high expectations. Despite missing the 2020 season due to the pandemic, the Elis hope to build upon their 2019 Ancient Eight championship with a strong group of returnees joined by a host of new first-year and sophomore players. This weekend, the Bulldogs have an opportunity to pick up where they left off with a home game against UMass Lowell (1–2–1, 0–0–0 America East) — their first game at Reese Stadium since clinching the Ivy title against Brown on Nov. 9, 2019.

“Our main focus this preseason has been … getting used to being together again and getting used to the playing system,” forward Paolo Carroll ’23 said. “Lots of tactical and video sessions to introduce the new guys to our offensive and defensive shape and to our set pieces.”

In its opening game of the season against Fairfield, the Blue and White applied pressure for the full 90 minutes, losing the lead twice before forward Kahveh Zahiroleslam ’24 netted the winning goal with 10 minutes remaining to seal the victory. Zahiroleslam was one of 10 players out of a 29-man roster to play his first Division I athletic competition this past weekend.

Against Fairfield, the Bulldogs saw productive minutes from returning and new players alike. Forward Eric Lagos ’24 — who started three games in 2019 before taking a leave of absence in 2020 — asserted himself as a physical presence up top, holding the ball up and attracting lots of attention from the opposing defense. Younger players such as defenders TJ Presthus ’25 and Yasin Aly ’25 asserted themselves as top talent on the defensive side. Presthus assisted on the Elis’ second goal against Fairfield as Lagos cleaned up a deflection from the first year’s shot.

Midfielder Sigfus Arnason ’23— who ranked second in assists in the Ivy League during his first-year campaign in 2019 — picked back up where he left off, assisting on Lagos’ first goal against the Stags just 11 minutes into the game. Arnason continued to cause the Stags problems with his speed and threatening services into the box from the left wing.

Elian Haddock ’23, the team’s goalkeeper and captain, made a number of strong stops against both Fairfield and Villanova. Haddock tallied six and eight saves against the Stags and the Wildcats, respectively, as he anchored a back line with multiple defenders playing in their first-ever collegiate game.

“I think it’s been both leading by example as well as integrating them into our system through things like film and whiteboard sessions,” the captain said when asked about building the new back line. “That being said, I can’t take credit for how much they’ve been able to contribute. Our newcomers have been phenomenal in adapting to the college level because they came in hungry and ready to win.”

One notable omission from the Bulldogs’ lineup was Enzo Okpoye ’22, the team’s only senior and an All-Ivy selection in 2019. Although men’s soccer head coach Kylie Stannard declined to offer details on Okpoye’s health status, Stannard reiterated Okpoye’s importance as a veteran leader on the team.

After opening the season with a tie and a win, UMass Lowell dropped its last two road games against Quinnipiac and Holy Cross. The Bulldogs represent the final opponent in a three-game road trip for the River Hawks. Despite falling 1–0 to Holy Cross, UMass Lowell outshot the Crusaders 17–4 in a display of its offensive firepower. The River Hawks had a similar experience in their 1–0 loss against the Bobcats, outshooting the opponent 8–5 in the second half.

“[The match against Holy Cross] was a good example of how one mental error can cost us a game even after having complete control of it,” Christian Figueroa, head coach of the Riverhawks, told UMass Lowell Athletics. “We created some good opportunities and need to be better to score them, but we can’t continue to put pressure on our back line by not scoring goals.”

UMass Lowell’s senior forward, Borna Miklic, is a player to watch for the Elis. Miklic netted the River Hawks’ winning goal in overtime against Siena and tallied a team-high five shots in the matchup against Quinnipiac.

When asked about how his team is preparing for the home opener, Stannard emphasized the importance of returning to basics as the team continues to learn the “system.” Improved defensive shape and increased composure on the ball are two points of focus heading into the weekend.

The Blue and White kick off against UMass Lowell at 7 p.m. on Saturday. The game is available to stream live on ESPN+.