Whether or not it seems fair, the winner of a soccer game is not the team that controls possession, has the most chances to score or even has the highest quality shots. Instead, the winner is decided by one simple fact: the number of times each team puts the ball into the back of the opposing team’s net. In Saturday’s NESCAC match against Hamilton, the United Soccer Coaches’ No. 6 ranked Tufts’ women’s soccer team experienced this first-hand. Despite their dominance and control of play throughout the game, they left New York with a 1–1 draw that would leave them hanging on to the top spot of the NESCAC by the skin of their teeth.
That is not to say that the Jumbos were dominating for all parts of the game. They got off to a slow start despite a commitment to ball movement and possession. This was met with a Hamilton side that played very direct in its offensive half of the field and predominantly relied on quick counter-attacking. Hamilton’s strong attack consisted of senior forward Hyla Mosher, first-year forward Maddie Ledbury and senior forward Caroline Dawson, who would make her mark on the game in the twelfth minute. After a defensive mistake by the Jumbos, Dawson capitalized on the opportunity, perfectly finishing the ball into the bottom right corner of the net that left senior goalkeeper Kaelin Logue with almost nothing to do about it.
“It was a tough, split-second decision on what to do in that moment because there was also a defender coming back on the breakaway, but [Dawson] did place it well, too,” Logue said.
A sign of a great team is how it responds to adversity, and after this goal, Tufts did exactly that.
“I think we settled down and started being more patient with when to keep the ball … and when to move [it] forward,” Logue said.
Over the rest of the first half, this patience helped them slowly gain momentum, and the quality of the team’s offensive chances gradually improved over the first half. One the best chances of the half came off a header to the bottom left side of the net from senior forward Claire Wilkinson, in response to which Hamilton’s first-year goalkeeper Nieve Tonna made a phenomenal save.
As the second half began, the game seemed to shift further and further into Tufts’ favor. It was clear that the Jumbos focused on getting to the corners and crossing the ball into the box. This style of play was spearheaded by sophomore forward Juliana Rosen, who came off the bench and provided an immediate and much-needed spark that helped turn the game for the Jumbos. After Rosen tracked down a ball on the wing, she drew the foul that led to a free-kick in an excellent spot.
A little over an hour in, the Jumbos capitalized on this free-kick as sophomore defender Caroline O’Neill served a beautiful ball into the box that was finished by first-year forward Elsi Aires.
“In my mind, if I crossed it and it went into the box, great. And then if I crossed it and it hit it off them, either I’d get the ball back, or it would go out for a corner kick,” Rosen said. “O’Neill has a great left foot in-swinger that has scored multiple goals already this season, and so I knew that we were in good hands in any of those situations.”
This trust among teammates is part of the reason that the Jumbos have found so much success this season, with a 5–1–1 record to show for it. Throughout the half, the number of quality chances skyrocketed and it seemed inevitable that Tufts would take the lead. However, Hamilton’s defense held strong, and by the end of the day, Tonna recorded an astonishing 13 saves with only one goal allowed, enabling the Continentals to escape the weekend with a 3–1–3 record. Hamilton had two draws this weekend, one against Tufts on Saturday and another against Wesleyan on Sunday.
Ultimately, this game against Hamilton served as a learning experience and a measurement of the team’s potential.
“It felt like we started off a little slow, or just a little less energetic than we wanted to,” Rosen said. “And so I think, going forward, if we just come out with that intensity and energy right from the beginning, it could put us up earlier instead of having to catch up.”
Logue felt similarly, adding that it is crucial to focus on every game individually.
“We’re definitely excited but [we’re] taking it game by game,” she said. “Our focus is on each game and going 1–0 that day.”
With such a mentality, the Jumbos may have what it takes to bring a NESCAC title or even an NCAA title to Medford. Although the team cannot win games by merely dominating play, by possession or by opportunities to score, these statistics are certainly indicators of wins to come.
In this game, Tufts recorded 27 shots with 14 of those on goal while Hamilton only recorded 13 total shots, three of which were on target. Furthermore, the Jumbos had eight corner kicks to the Continentals’ three. Evidently, the Jumbos were in control, but were unable to take the lead. Still, if this game and the team’s previous games are indicative of what is to come for the squad, then it will certainly be an exciting rest of the season.