On Sept. 24, 2022, almost exactly a year ago, the Tufts men’s soccer team suffered what many cited as their worst loss of the 2022 season, falling 1–0 to the Hamilton Continentals in a tense game that featured two red cards. On Saturday, Tufts was given an opportunity to avenge that defeat on home turf during the university’s Homecoming weekend. The Jumbos did not throw away their shot.
The matchup, which took place during scattered rain showers, blistering winds and the first chilling weather of the autumn season, was a must-win for both sides. Tufts came into the match 3–1–1, with impressive victories over MIT, University of Maine-Farmington and Salem State University, but having failed to garner a NESCAC win this season. A draw with Connecticut College and a 3–1 drubbing at the hands of Amherst College, two of the conference’s best outfits, meant the clash with the Continentals was a critical juncture in Tufts’ season.
Similarly, the Continentals entered the contest 1–2–2, earning their only victory in a non-conference thrashing of SUNY Polytechnic 5–1 in their most recent game. The fervor was palpable as the Continentals kicked off, having lost the coin toss, at around 2 p.m.
In the early goings of the first half, the Continentals appeared in control. Having the wind blowing against them in the attacking direction meant that the Jumbos could not gain meaningful possession, nor string together fruitful attacks. In the opening 15 minutes, the Continentals put up four shots compared to two from the Jumbos, forcing the Jumbo goalkeeper, sophomore Nikola Antic, into action early.
Nonetheless, the Jumbo backline, led by senior defender Max Clivio, weathered the storm, allowing the Jumbo attack an opportunity to make its mark on the bout.
“We all knew that from the way the game started that it wasn't exactly the start we wanted,” Clivio said in an interview with The Daily. “We kind of just looked at each other, lowered a bit of the tension and spoke and said look, let's just take it up a notch.”
In the 15th minute, against the run of play, the Jumbos pounced on the counter-attack. Sophomore midfielder Daniel Yanez sent a beautifully weighted through-ball down the left flank towards senior forward Sean Traynor, who calmly dispatched the chance past the Continentals’ senior goalkeeper Kai Haesslein into the bottom corner of the Continental net, giving his team a 1–0 advantage.
Despite the shot totals for the remainder of the first half being even a five per team, the Jumbos were the dominant outfit for the latter 30 minutes following their goal. They adjusted to the wind conditions and found themselves with increased possession in the final third. Overall, though, the game became more physically demanding due to the weather. As opposed to their typical ground-based gameplans, both teams found themselves playing “route one” soccer, in which the goalkeeper punts the ball long instead of initiating an attack by passing to a local defender. More aerial balls cause more aerial duels, which frequently result in fouls. The irritated attitudes that stemmed from these clashes yielded many foul-worthy incidents.
“I think the weather does affect the physicality of the game a lot because the ball is moving quicker, so you actually misjudge some situations and find yourself in a physical battle. But … we've actually found ourselves being the more physical of the teams that we've played with,” Clivio said. “I think the players are just playing with a newfound hunger.”
In total, nine fouls from both sides were called by officials in just the first half, resulting in a yellow card for Traynor. Another abundant occurrence during the first half was substitutions, specifically by Tufts. Coach Kyle Dezotell made nine changes prior to the break, letting his starters rest before the second half, knowing the Jumbos’ lead was comfortable.
As the two teams re-entered the field for the second half, the Jumbos knew they had the advantage of playing with the wind the rest of the way. They were able to pressure the Continental net repeatedly, eventually breaking through 10 minutes into the half. Just past the 55-minute mark, senior midfielder Liam Gerken, who had been the heartbeat of all of the Jumbos’ moves throughout the afternoon, sent a beautiful cross into the six-yard box, where Clivio rose up and unleashed a perfect, glancing header into the back of the net.
“I usually just get back on defense … but Liam Gerken got the ball wide,” Clivio said. “I just felt confident that Liam was gonna put in a good cross … and I was able to get my head on it first and make the game 2–0.”
The Jumbos had all but assured victory prior to the latter third of the match. The subsequent minutes were marked by more strife and foul play, resulting in two more yellow cards, one each for Hamilton’s sophomore forward Aeden Burke and junior midfielder Luke Peplowski. The Continentals were worn down, though, and the Jumbos broke through again, with junior midfielder Ethan Feigin scoring off of his own rebound after pouncing on a disorganized Hamilton defense. Feigin’s goal was the finishing blow, and the Jumbos cruised to a statement 3–0 victory.
For the Continentals, the defeat is a crushing blow to a season that has not gone to plan so far. However, they were able to win their next contest 2–0 at Wesleyan University, obtaining their first NESCAC win of the season. For the Jumbos, the win proved to the rest of the conference that they are a good team, one that is in contention for the conference title and a deep postseason run. They took the momentum into their next game, winning 3–1 over the Trinity Bantams to improve to 5–1–1 overall, 2–1–1 in the NESCAC.
“We didn’t have a six-point weekend at all last season. So we knew that that was something we wanted to go after too, and I don't think Trinity [was] expecting us to come out the way we did and to play with the intensity the way we did, because I think we just knew that we needed to get those six points from the weekend [to] assert ourselves in the NESCAC standings,” Clivio said.
The Jumbos look to continue their hot streak back at Bello Field against the Wesleyan Cardinals at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27. Overall, it was a successful Homecoming weekend for the Jumbos, and one that bodes well for the season to come.