Jumbos win fourth NESCAC game, outlast Panthers
Published: Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 7, 2013 02:10
The men’s soccer players went out to Kraft Field on Saturday without their best stuff — their through balls were just going long, their crosses weren’t finding blue jerseys — all while Middlebury players seemed to keep creating shots. But the sign of a good team is a team that can win without its best stuff, and that’s exactly what Tufts did against Middlebury, battling to a 1-0 win to move into third place in the NESCAC.
Tufts, one of the smaller teams in the NESCAC, had to deal with a big Middlebury attack and planned accordingly.
“Middlebury is a physical team,” senior defender Ben Ewing said. “I think they kind of outsized us, so we wanted to limit free kick opportunities and try and keep the ball on the ground.”
However, both teams’ opportunities were limited for the first 18 minutes, as neither team found space to shoot, until sophomore midfielder Connor Brown and junior tri-captain forward Maxime Hoppenot ripped off consecutive shots. The Tufts assault appeared to wake up Middlebury, who began pressuring the Jumbos for the rest of the half, turning quick counter attacks into numerous scoring opportunities.
“I think we did a good job limiting free kicks, but in credit to them, I think they played better than us in certain parts of the game,” Ewing said. “We defended pretty well though, and we didn’t give up any goals, so we got it done.”
Both the defense and freshman keeper Scott Greenwood deserve equal amounts of credit for the shutout. Greenwood, who recorded his sixth shutout of the year, performed with composure in response to the Middlebury attack. Meanwhile, the defense consistently seemed to have a man sliding in at the last second to cut off a Middlebury player from the goal, which was part of the reason that of Middlebury’s 19 shots, only six of them were on goal.
“They had some pretty dangerous counterattacks,” sophomore midfielder Rui Pinheiro said. “We defended most of them pretty well, and Scottie [Greenwood] played really well.”
The staunch defense finally paid off on the other end of the field in the 39th minute. Senior tri-captain forward Scott Blumenthal received the ball around midfield and raced down the sideline, beating several Middlebury players with a series of jukes. Finally, Blumenthal sent in a low cross to freshman midfielder Nathan Majumder, who received it well, and played a soft lead pass to Pinheiro, who laced a one-timer from the 18 past Middlebury keeper senior Ethan Collins for the first goal of the day and Pinheiro’s first goal of his career.
“It was great, and I was really excited, but I knew I had to get right back in the game,” Pinheiro said. “There were five minutes left in the first half, and the whole second half, so I knew I couldn’t let my mind wander.”
After the goal, the gameplay did not change much, with Middlebury continuing to attack throughout the rest of the game and Tufts continuing to respond. The Panthers recorded 10 shots in the second half but only two on goal, a testament to the Jumbos’ perseverance on defense.
“I think we stepped it up a bit in the second half,” Ewing said. “We probably didn’t create as many chances as we could have, but we came close a few times. The midfield played really well in the second half, and we definitely picked it up from the first half, which I think was not as good a performance.”
The team, which was happy coming away with a win, still sees notable areas for improvement.
“I think we have to play our game,” Ewing said. “The NESCAC is a big league, and we are one of the smaller teams, so we need to impose our game and our style.”
For the Jumbos, that involves keeping the ball on the ground, playing an attacking kind of game and turning the opposing team over for quick counter attacks.
However, being able to come away with a win like the one on Saturday, when they don’t do those things, is just as important for Tufts.