Men's Soccer | Tufts beats Bowdoin to secure first home playoff game in 11 years
Published: Friday, October 26, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 26, 2012 01:10
Needing a tie against Bowdoin on Wednesday to secure a home playoff match in the first round of the NESCAC Tournament, the men’s soccer team went above and beyond, beating the visiting Polar Bears 2-1 after a late goal from junior midfielder Scott Blumenthal. But Bowdoin’s chance at revenge will come in just four days when the two teams meet again on Saturday at Bello Field in the conference quarterfinals.
After going through a rough mid-season stretch in which the team went 1-2-3 in conference play while scoring only six goals, Tufts has finally regained its stride with two consecutive NESCAC wins. Though the team did not necessarily play poorly during that rough stretch, the Jumbos had trouble finishing their chances, and, ultimately, were unable to get the results that they were capable of.
“I feel the team has some confidence and belief right now,” coach Josh Shapiro said. “We played very well at times in the Williams and MIT games, but simply did not make the plays around the net. We made some tactical adjustments and some tweaks with personnel that seem to have helped a bit.”
“I really think we’re starting to find our stride and definitely taking some momentum into the NESCAC playoffs,” Blumenthal added. “The wins against Hamilton and Bowdoin were big for us, especially because we blew a lead against Hamilton and went down 1-0 early against Bowdoin. But in both games, we responded quickly as a group and got the desired results.”
The Polar Bears opened up the scoring Wednesday in the 17th minute when freshman forward Andrew Jones struck from 40 yards out. Junior goalkeeper Wyatt Zeller nearly made the save for the Jumbos, but the ball eluded his outstretched fingers. Bowdoin senior midfielder Alex Thomas was credited with the assist on the play.
Tufts responded just 20 minutes later when sophomore midfielder Kento Nakamura picked out freshman midfielder Jason Kayne, who had gotten open at the top of the box. Kayne corralled the pass and sent a nifty chip over the head of Bowdoin junior goalkeeper Will Wise.
The beginning of the second half was played fairly evenly, as both teams produced dangerous scoring chances. Tufts finished with six shots on goal, partially a product of its new formation, which stresses constant pressure on the opponent to win the ball back after a turnover.
“The formation created both goals for us against Hamilton and certainly helped against Bowdoin,” Blumenthal said. “[Sophomore defender] Sam Williams and [senior co-captain defender] Pat Bauer have stepped up, playing in positions they might not be as used to, and freshman [defender] Monil Patel has done a great job starting at outside back the last few games.”
In the 84th minute, Blumenthal scored what would be the game-winning goal, his third of the season, after some beautiful tic-tac-toe passing to unlock the steady Bowdoin back line.
“[Freshman midfielder Rui] Pinhiero found the ball on the left side about 35 yards out,” Shapiro said. “He played a good sharp pass into [sophomore forward Maxime] Hoppenot. Kayne darted around Hoppenot, who laid a one-time pass off into path. Kayne looked up alertly and found Blumenthal crashing the back post. It was a well-worked goal, indicative of our young players’ soccer acumen and unselfish play.”
Having qualified for their first home playoff match since 2001, the Jumbos must now once again ready themselves to play Bowdoin, a team that finished the regular season with a 4-4-2 conference record. The Polar Bears are led by junior defender Ben Brewster, who was named to the All-NESCAC Second Team last season, but Bowdoin is really known for its consistency and ability at every position.
“We just have to approach Bowdoin the same way we approached them today: go in to the game knowing that they are going to be a very tough matchup that we cannot lose to at any cost,” senior co-captain midfielder Rafa Ramos-Meyer said. “We need to be more focused on what we can do to dictate the game. In terms of their style, they have a lot of physically imposing players, and they will look to play to that strength.”
The Jumbos will be short-handed on Saturday with the losses of sophomore midfielders Kyle Volpe, Gus Santos and Mike Miele, all of whom may not be able to play on Saturday for medical reasons. In their absences, Tufts has gotten strong play from key reserves such as Pinhiero, Kayne, and Patel, all of whom are freshmen.
“The ability to make-up for the absence of some incredible players is definitely a product of our depth,” Zeller said. “We knew the whole year that everybody on the squad was going to be able to make a difference. People on the bench are itching to get in the game, and they have shown that they are more than capable of contributing quality minutes.”
Having just played each other, there should not be any surprises when the Jumbos and Polar Bears battle on Saturday. According to Zeller, it will take an even better effort for Tufts to beat Bowdoin once again in the playoffs.
“Beating Bowdoin again will take an effort equivalent to, or better than, what we did on Wednesday,” he said. “The atmosphere is going to be more intense, because it is win or go home, and they are always a team that brings a lot of passion on the pitch. To win, we are going to need to play collected, calm, and as a team. We are going to need to trust one another and play extremely hard and physically - especially in the penalty boxes.”