Men's Soccer | Men’s Soccer takes on toughest test yet
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 02:09
The men’s soccer team entered last weekend with hopes of continuing their season opening winning streak but instead came away with two draws against the Colby and Trinity teams that they beat last season. This week, the challenge is different, but the expectations are the same, as Tufts prepares to battle an Amherst team ranked second in the nation.
The Jumbos, unhappy with their results from last weekend, are looking to prove that it was an anomaly in an otherwise spotless season. And there is no better way to prove themselves than by taking down the No. 2 team in the country.
“Especially this game, coming off of two results that we know we could have done better on, and the fact that Amherst is doing well this season, makes this a very big game for us,” senior co-captain Rafa Ramos-Meyer said. “We’re looking to make a statement, and if it were to happen, it would happen [this] Saturday.”
Team scoring leader Maxime Hoppenot, a sophomore, agreed with Ramos-Meyer but also added that the team will go at this game just like any other.
“This is a great opportunity because they’re undefeated, ranked second in the nation, and whenever you have the chance to beat a team like that, or a ranked team, it’s a good opportunity,” Hoppenot said. “But I think we’re just going to try to treat it like any other game.”
But it’s hard not to take notice of Amherst. The Lord Jeffs, who are 6-0 on the year and 3-0 in the NESCAC, have outscored their opponents by a staggering 22-1, scoring five or more goals in half of their games.
“One of the things you have to handle against them is their ability to score off of set pieces. I think more than half of their goals have come from set pieces,” coach Josh Shapiro said. “Our ability to neutralize that as much as we can and limit their opportunities is important.”
More than anything, Coach Shapiro and the rest of the team believe that the key to success is playing Tufts-style soccer.
“They’re very good in the air, and they’re a big, physical team. If we can keep the ball on the ground and play our brand of soccer, I think we have a terrific chance,” Shapiro said. “If the ball is in the air the whole time and we’re playing their style, I think it will be very hard.”
The success of Amherst starts and ends with their dominant attack, led by the reigning NESCAC player of the year, senior Spencer Noon, and his fellow forward, junior Jae Heo, who both have a team-leading 13 points this season.But while the team is aware of the individual talent that Amherst boasts, coach Shapiro does not want to let his player’s focus stray.
“We’re very aware of these guys, but we’re not going to be a team dictated too much by our opponents,” he said. “I want our team to be aware of who their dangerous players are and who they might be looking to in certain situations, but at the end of the day, we’re going to play our style of game and not let whoever comes in here dictate what we do.”
Shapiro did add that his defense will have to step up for its biggest challenge of the year, as they try to slow down an attack that has already attempted 158 shots, 68 more than a Jumbos offense that is itself well regarded.
In order to keep up with the high-flying Lord Jeffs, the Jumbos will need to create opportunities for its dynamic sophomore duo of Hoppenot and classmate Gus Santos, who have combined to score more than half the team’s goals this year.
As Ramos-Meyer pointed out though, it is not only about creating opportunities for the attack but also executing and finishing those opportunities.
“We were able to create good chances this past weekend,” Ramos-Meyer said. “We just didn’t execute and didn’t finish. I think we’re definitely going be more aggressive and take more risks on offense. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
In fact, over their two games this past weekend, Tufts combined for 32 shots, but those shots yielded only one goal. That lack of efficiency won’t cut it against an Amherst team that consistently capitalizes on its chances.
In the end, it’s who can put the ball in the net that matters, and scoring often comes down to a lucky bounce and which team is out there competing more.
“We just need to be ready to battle,” Hoppenot said. “It’s going to be contested game, and we just have to be ready to go.”