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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, February 22, 2024

Men's soccer defeats Amherst and ties with Williams in tightly contested matches

The men’s soccer team picked up a win on the road this past weekend against the Amherst Mammoths, while also earning its second NESCAC tie of the season in its match against the Williams Ephs.

When soccer enthusiasts think about the most famous rivalries, their minds race to Real Madrid and Barcelona, Manchester United and Manchester City or Tufts and Amherst. Glamour, skill, mania, despair and jubilation: the rivalry produced a riveting match, lit up by fierce tackles, wonder goals, crushing mistakes and last-minute drama. The game simply had everything.

The Jumbos arrived at Hitchcock Field having just suffered a brutal 1–0 defeat to the Wesleyan Cardinals. Amherst, on the other hand, were coming off two convincing victories, scoring a whopping 13 goals in only two matches. The Jumbos ultimately came out victorious over the Mammoths, winning 3–2, but it wasn't easy. Senior defender Ian Daly commented on the tough matchup.

"Amherst brings a ton of energy when they play. That's always have, that’s always been their identity since Serpone [Amherst’s head coach] took over," Daly said. 

Daly's analysis of the Mammoths' play style was apparent before the referee blew his whistle, with a roaring crowd filling the stands. Riding their home support, the Mammoths started the game off strong. The Mammoths looked to impose themselves on the Jumbos early on, pressing high up the pitch, hoping to nick a loose ball in a dangerous area. Unfortunately for the Jumbos, Amherst's relentless pressure led to them snatching the lead five minutes into the game.

The goal came off Amherst senior midfielder Alex Shahmirzadi’s throw-in, which bounced all the way through the Tufts defense, finding sophomore defender Laurens Ten Cate at the back post for a tap-in.

Despite a rough start to the match, Tufts gained a point through Daly, who was able to capitalize on Amherst goalkeeper Bernie White's error. White spilled the ball from a dipping freekick from junior midfielder Liam Gerken, allowing Daly to smash in the rebound only two minutes after Amherst found the opening goal. 

What followed for spectators was 40 more minutes of end-to-end action, with Tufts being on the backfoot through suffocating pressure from the Mammoths. However, despite Amherst's persistence, the Jumbos entered the half level with Amherst, with the goals split one a piece at the break. 

The second half seemed to pick up right where the first half left off. Amherst swiftly regained the lead through junior forward Ada Okorogheyescoring within 30 seconds of the second-half whistle blowing. Despite sophomore goalkeeper Erik Lauta, who was named NESCAC Player of the Week last week, getting a strong hand on the ball, the placement and power of the header proved too much for the keeper and Amherst found themselves up 2–1. 

The Jumbos struck back only 30 seconds later. In the midst of chaotic Amherst defenders, Gerken was able to keep a cool head, getting himself open for a shot that he absolutely crashed into the back of the net. 

Jumbo junior defender Gibson Campbell's performance was arguably the most impressive on the day. Campbell proved why he's one of the league's elite fullbacks, stopping almost every attack down the left flank. The left back was a force for the Jumbos from the opening whistle, getting stuck into tackles whenever and wherever he could.

Through a rather confusing play following another Gerken free kick, the ball ricocheted off several Tufts and Amherst players. After a seemingly pinball-esque sequence, the ball seemingly reached Daly, who was credited with looping in a header over White in the 62nd minute.

But the reality was that the chaos of the goal didn't end there. Daly explained what actually happened.

"[Zach Seigelstein] is actually the one who scored,” Daly said. “He got a toe on it … that’s the kind of goal that you expect to see a lot of in those games. Just bouncing around, gritty ‘second-balls.’ Unfortunately that’s where a lot of the money is made in DIII soccer."

Despite Amherst having double the number of shots than Tufts, with eight on goal compared to Tufts’ six on goal, the Jumbos left Amherst victorious. The following day, the Jumbos took on another fierce competitor, the Ephs.

"Every game in the NESCAC is a difficult game," said Lauta.

This year, the NESCAC has seen several inconsistencies, with historically dominant teams being challenged by teams they normally defeat. Daly credits these almost upside-down standings to the rising quality of the league. 

“It’s more of the bottom coming up, than necessarily the top dropping down that’s caused so much of the inconsistencies [in the NESCAC’s standings] this year,” Daly said.

Like Saturday, the Jumbos were under almost immediate pressure from the kickoff. In the 11th minute, a lofted free kick from Williams defender Cole Morriello found senior forward Will Felitto's head in the midst of a bit of chaos in the penalty box.

Nine minutes after the Ephs snatched the lead, Daly collaborated with sophomore defender Alex Wall on a one-two on the wing, freeing up Daly for a trademark cross into the box, which was cooly finished off by first-year defender Mateo Bargagna.

The game’s momentum quickly swayed in the Jumbos’ favor as they dominated the final twenty minutes of the first half, creating chance after chance. First-year midfielder Daniel Yanez found himself open from a layoff from Daly. Yanez's shot dipped from left to right with vicious power, straight into the top right-hand corner.

Williams started the second half with the same intensity they did the first. The Ephs launched the ball into the box at any opportunity they could, creating more mania for the Tufts backline. Williams came close to grabbing the equalizer two or three times as their players were able to attack the second balls from the lofted crosses into the box. In a shot almost identical to the Ephs' first goal, Williams grabbed an equalizer through a Felitto header. 

Despite a very eventful game, the end was somewhat anticlimactic as neither team could snatch a third point. Two exciting and memorable games mean that the Jumbos enter the week fourth in the NESCAC, sitting on five points.