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Men's Soccer | Tufts downed in NCAA tournament opener against Vassar

Golden goal penalty kick ends the Jumbos’ season

Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 08:11


Oliver Porter / The Tufts Daily

Junior midfielder Scott Blumenthal will be one of the leaders next season of the men’s soccer team, which is looking promising even after the squad’s 1-0 loss to Vassar in the NCAA tournament.

A historic Tufts men’s soccer season came to an end in devastating fashion on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Div. III tournament. Under the lights and on the turf at Brandeis University’s Gordon Field, the Jumbos dominated the Vassar College Brewers for all 90 minutes of regulation but were unable to score a goal, leaving the door open for Vassar to steal the win with an overtime golden goal off of a penalty kick in the second minute of the second overtime.

In the 102nd minute, Vassar’s Dante Varotsis, a senior co−captain forward, beat Tufts junior defender Luke Booth to a ball near the end line on the left side of the box. Booth appeared to pull Varotsis down, but coach Josh Shapiro and other members of the team still questioned the referee’s decision to award a penalty kick in sudden death overtime.

“I think Luke Booth was pretty unlucky to be in that situation,” Shapiro said. “Was it a foul? Probably. But was it a foul that you expect to be called? Probably not. But regardless, I think it was a very harsh way for it to end given the performance that we had.”

After the call and amid protest from some of the Jumbos, Vassar’s senior co−captain defender Zander Mrlik stepped up to the spot and put the game away. He calmly sent a low penalty kick to the right of junior goalkeeper Wyatt Zeller, who had no chance of making a save after guessing the wrong way and diving left.

Despite the controversial finish to the game, players on the team admitted that Tufts should have won in regulation. The Jumbos were especially dominant in the first half. After 45 minutes of play, Tufts held a 7−1 advantage in shots, a 6−0 lead in corner kicks, controlled the majority of possession and created several dangerous scoring opportunities. The Jumbos did this despite not having their top scoring threat, sophomore midfielder Gus Santos, who missed the game with an illness.

“That’s just kind of the nature of the game of soccer,” Zeller said. “You can outplay people and then eventually the statistics don’t really matter because it just comes down to who can put the ball in the net.”

“At the end of the day, I think we created enough chances to take the game, but we just didn’t capitalize, and that will often come back to haunt you,” Shapiro added.

Despite the fact that the team struggled to score goals at times this season, the Jumbos still built on last year’s 9−4−2 campaign with a 9−4−4 overall record this season. Tufts accomplished all three of its preseason goals by appearing in the national top 25 rankings, hosting and winning a NESCAC tournament game, and playing in the NCAA tournament. The Jumbos had not earned a home conference playoff game since 2001 and had not qualified for the NCAA tournament since 1996.

“We definitely hit all of our goals that we wanted to achieve during the season,” Zeller said. “The fact that we feel that we underachieved but still hit all of our goals really says something about where this program is headed.”

The Jumbos should also be encouraged by the fact that they are still a relatively young team. Against Vassar, Tufts started four sophomores and three freshmen. Over the course of the season, 17 of the Jumbos’ 26 goals and 16 of their 21 assists came from sophomores and freshmen.

According to senior co−captain Rafa Ramos−Meyer, who has played a major role in the program’s turnaround, the production from the team’s youngest players is a testament to Shapiro’s ability as a recruiter and bodes well for the future of the program.

“Going from one of the worst teams in the conference to making the first round of the NCAA tournament has been incredible, and I’ve been so happy to be a part of that,” he said. “I’m just really excited for our program going forward because it’s going to get even better.”

Still, the Jumbos will miss the leadership of its five graduating seniors: Ramos−Meyer, co−captain defender Pat Bauer, forward Franco Silva, midfielder John Lewis and defender Michael Walker. With the injection of two extremely talented recruiting classes, the playing time of all but Bauer has decreased, but Shapiro credited all five with playing integral roles in the turnaround of the program by leading by example and mentoring the younger players.

“These were the first guys who were with me, and they stepped up in my first year to help get the program going with the right culture and the right mentality,” Shapiro said. “It can be hard sometimes when you are not playing as much, but I credit all of them for handling that with class.”

Having proven this season that they can play competitively with any team in New England, the challenge for the Jumbos next year will be to win more of those close matches and truly establish themselves as a regional powerhouse. On paper, though, it seems like Tufts has the returning players to work towards that next step

The Jumbos bring back four of their five defensive starters from a back line that allowed only 12 goals in 17 matches this season and recorded seven shutouts. They also return plenty of experience in the midfield, including juniors Scott Blumenthal and Jono Edelman, sophomores Kento Nakamura, Gus Santos, Mike Miele and Kyle Volpe, and freshmen Rui Pinheiro, Jason Kayne and Connor Brown. And at forward, sophomore Maxime Hoppenot, who led the team with seven goals and was the only player to start all 17 matches, will be back for his third season.

If the team continues to play consistently at the back and is able to do a better job of finishing its opportunities, expect the Jumbos to make even more progress in 2013.

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