Jumbos down Mules as team improves to 3-0
Published: Monday, September 16, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013 02:09
Given that last season was one of its most successful campaigns in recent memory, the men’s soccer team wanted to start this year with a bang and prove that a winning culture has been permanently established on Kraft Field.
And with an emphatic 1-0 win over Colby at home on Saturday, Tufts has now equaled its record from last year of winning the first three games of the season. Even more impressively, the Jumbos have yet to allow a goal this season, tying the longest period the team has not conceded a score since 2001.
The Jumbos also had some added motivation heading into the game, as they not only were playing their first home game in over a year, but also were seeking to defeat a Mules team that spoiled Tufts’ first NESCAC home game last year with a 0-0 draw.
“We were just building up from our last two games, and it’s been almost a year since our last home game,” senior tri-captain forward Scott Blumenthal said. “We all love playing at home, especially against Colby last year, because we tied them in front of our home crowd.”
However, the Mules, who came in seeking their first conference win of the season, started strongly. Colby matched Tufts shot for shot in the first 20 minutes and forced Tufts freshman goalie Scott Greenwood into a sliding save in the 14th minute. But it was the Jumbos who were determined to strike first.
“They’re a great team, they really work hard and dig in, so we knew we had to get that first goal,” Blumenthal said. “Last year, we just couldn’t score, so we wanted to be really urgent the entire time. Getting that first half goal was big.”
The Jumbos finally got the chance they were waiting for in the 39th minute, when junior tri-captain forward Max Hoppenot sent in a cross to sophomore forward Tal Smith, who put the ball in the back of the net with a nifty back heel.
“Max [Hoppenot] and [junior midfielder] Kyle Volpe did some great work on the left side of the field, and I just had a feeling Max was going to beat his defender, and I streaked into the box and he played in a great ball,” Smith said. “I actually ended up a little bit in front of the ball, and I just did my best to wrap my back foot around the ball and luckily it worked.”
The goal by Smith, a transfer from Howard University, was his third through three games, tying him with Hoppenot for first on the team in both goals and points. The emergence of Smith as a reliable scorer off the bench has given the Jumbos another weapon in an already dynamic attack.
“I was welcomed into the team immediately, and it’s a really great group of guys,” Smith said of his ability to make such a quick impact. “There’s such a positive attitude on this team that I feel like I’ve been able to fit in pretty seamlessly from the start. With how great the other players are on the field, and how deep we are with talent, it’s hard not to be playing well right now.”
Smith also credits both the team for maintaining a high standard of play and the defense for giving players like Smith, Hoppenot and Blumenthal space to operate up front.
That defense came up big again Saturday, as Tufts was allowed to press the Mules, outshooting them 16-3, without worrying about the opposition doing any damage.
“One of the biggest things defensively, as a team that we want to focus on, is going for a shutout every single game,” Blumenthal said. “Amherst won the NESCAC and gave up something like two goals the whole season, and if you look at the stats, it’s the teams that give up the least goals that are usually the first and second teams in the conference.”
With the win, the Jumbos move into a three-way tie with Amherst and Trinity atop the NESCAC and are the only team remaining in the conference to not allow a goal this season. However, the team, which will face its toughest test of the season tomorrow afternoon against Wesleyan, is trying to stay within itself.
“We can’t complain about a 3-0 start, but we’re trying to stay very modest,” Blumenthal said. “Last year we had a good start as well, and we ended up ranked in the top 25 in the country, got way too excited about that and let it go to our head. That ended up costing us some big games in the middle of the season, so this year we are very conscious of that. [We understand] that [having] three wins is good, but it’s not going to get us to where we want to be.”