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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Men’s soccer ends season with second round NCAA tournament exit

Men's soccer is pictured in a game against Hamilton on Sept. 24.

The 2022 men’s soccer season ended on Sunday, Nov. 13, with a 2–0 loss in the second round of the NCAA Division III Men’s Soccer Tournament to regional host SUNY Oneonta. The day prior, the Jumbos were triumphant in their first round battle with UMass Boston, who they beat 1–0 courtesy of a brilliant free kick goal scored by first-year midfielder Daniel Yanez.

On Sunday against the Oneonta Red Dragons, the Jumbos got off to a promising start, as they mostly controlled the game for the opening 20 minutes. The hosts struck first against the run of play, however, when forward Lucas Fecci headed home across from midfielder Ethan Brunell. The goal was Fecci’s 13th of the season and represented the advantage to Oneonta of having a reliable goal-scoring threat in their front three ― something which Tufts lacked all season.

The Red Dragons doubled their lead in the 74th minute through a scintillating counterattack which simply couldn’t be stopped by the Jumbos. Defender John Bernardi won the ball back in his own half for the Red Dragons after a free kick opportunity from the Jumbos and created space for the counterattack with a beautiful flick to avoid a tackle. By the time Bernardi sprinted the length of the field, he was able to slot a pass from Fecci into the back of the net to make the score 2–0.

The tale of the Jumbos’ offensive woes from this season continued that day, as they were kept off the scoresheet and could only fire off one shot attempt in the second half despite needing to score to keep their season alive.

Losing in this fashion stressed the Jumbos’ inexperience as well as their need for a reliable source of goals in 2023 ― especially from set pieces.

“We struggled to score goals, [which] is the harsh reality of our season,” Jumbos’ second-year head coach Kyle Dezotell said in an interview with All Things Division III Soccer with SimpleCoach. “There were times this year where I actually thought we played better soccer than at any point in 2021. Just in 2021, you know, Calvin Aroh would come head in a corner kick, or Travis Van Brewer would score on a direct kick, or Biagio Paoletta would come head in a corner kick, and we just didn’t have that this year. That comes from just like juniors and seniors usually.”

“You can see this throughout the NCAA Tournament, how important set pieces are,” Dezotell added. “It’s the part of our game that nobody wants to talk about, or the uglier side of our game, but it’s really important. I said this in 2021, I thought Conn. College won the national championship because of how good they were on set pieces, and you’re seeing it now: Williams is in the Final Four because of how good they are on set pieces.”

Each of the three goals scored by the Jumbos in their final five games of the season were scored from set pieces. Though scoring three goals in five games is a rather abysmal rate, especially by the Jumbos’ lofty standards, some of the Jumbos’ biggest victories of the 2022 season support Dezotell’s claim that set piece goals are critical. In fact, the last of these three set piece goals was Yanez’s free kick which proved to be the lone goal in the Jumbos’ 1–0 first round NCAA tournament victory over UMass Boston.

In the 75th minute, Yanez, who quickly established himself this season as one of the Jumbos’ best goal-scoring threats from distance, curled a right-footed delivery from the left edge of the penalty area, around UMass Boston’s four-man wall, and inside the far post of the goal.

“I remember the goalie set up his wall, and it looked a little funny because the wall was four or five guys, and his positioning was weird,” Yanez said. “He was right in the middle of the goal, and it looked like he couldn’t see the ball too well. So then I just decided to kind of whip it far post and just see what happened, … and he just watched it go in.”

Moments like this gave Dezotell more reason to be proud of the Jumbos’ achievements this season and to be optimistic for what the future holds for the program.

“As a coach, I think we actually did incredibly well this year to get to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with very few upperclassmen and a ton of freshmen and sophomores out there playing massive minutes for us,” Dezotell said. “While there were still a few upperclassmen, it just felt like it was just a new generation of Tufts soccer and one that I feel really, really confident in. 2023, 2024, 2025 are going to be right where we need to be to be competing for everything.”