Although it may be cliché, it is often said that those with experience gain the virtues of wisdom, patience and perspective. All of these traits were on display on Saturday as the Tufts men’s soccer team honored its seniors. For 88 of the match’s 90 minutes, the Tufts Jumbos were in a 0–0 deadlock with the Emerson Lions. But thanks to a last-gasp penalty kick from sophomore midfielder Daniel Yanez, the Jumbos were able to celebrate Senior Day with a victory.
Since losing 3–1 at home to Amherst on Sept. 17, the Jumbos had sported an undefeated 4–0–2 record, not conceding a goal in their two subsequent matches at Bello Field. The matchup against the Lions was not expected to be an easy task though, as the visiting team came into the matchup with a 6–3–2 record.
The Jumbos kicked off to start the match, having the advantage of going with the infamous Bello wind in the first half. The early goings of the match were rather balanced, with neither side finding it easy to break through. Nonetheless, by the time 15 minutes had elapsed, the Jumbos had assumed control of the game and never looked back.
The center-back duo of senior defender Max Clivio and junior defender Owen Denby, and later the duo of Clivio and junior defender Alex Wall, were superb with the ball at their feet. They were able to effortlessly switch the stream of play, resulting in seemingly nonchalant exchanges between the pairs turning into dangerous wide attacks. On the flanks, sophomore defender Mateo Bargagna, senior forward Sean Traynor and senior defender Gibson Campbell were let loose to run onto the ends of long balls and send crosses into the box. Unfortunately for the Jumbos, their end product was severely lacking in the final third. Despite outshooting the Lions seven to four in the first 45 minutes, the Jumbos were only able to force the Lions’ first year goalkeeper Beckett Hobbs to make one save and were flagged offside four times.
Despite the Jumbos maintaining possession, the Lions were able to hold their own. However, the lack of shots on target proved costly for Emerson, who sent three out of their four shots in the first half over sophomore goalkeeper Nikola Antic’s net.
“Emerson did a pretty good job of sitting in that block, so they forced us into [long balls],” Yanez said. “And then I think at halftime we had a moment of, ‘Let’s try to play our game a little bit more.’”
As halftime approached, another factor entered the match: rain. The pitch became soaked, leading to slippery conditions. However, the game played on, and the Jumbos entered the second half frustrated at their lack of goals but optimistic that they could capitalize on the chances to come.
“Definitely a little frustrating because we felt like we had a lot of chances and it wasn’t falling, but … we kept pushing forward and believing that we were going to get a goal,” Yanez said.
Straight out of the break, the Jumbos were on the offensive. They did not let their grip on the contest waver the rest of the way, putting up a whopping 16 shots to the Emerson net throughout the half and coming inches away from scoring on multiple occasions. Senior midfielder Woovin Shin, junior midfielder Ethan Feigin, first-year midfielder Bijan Akhtarzandi-Das and Yanez ran the show in the offensive zone. In addition to creating chances for themselves, they were able to facilitate shots for the front line. Traynor’s sliding effort on an open goal that clipped the underside of the crossbar was the closest the Jumbos came to converting.
The Lions’ strategy of bending but not breaking could not last forever, though. With just two minutes remaining, Feigin drove at the Lion defense head-on. Senior midfielder Ben Deeming fouled him inside the box, a clear penalty that was immediately given by the referee. After a few moments of consideration, the Jumbos agreed that it would be Yanez, on his birthday, who would step up and take the spot kick.
With the pressure mounting, you could hear a pin drop at Bello Field, and all eyes zoomed in on Hobbs and Yanez. The pair were engaged in psychological warfare, each trying to predict the other’s move. Yanez, however, was unfazed, and calmly stepped up and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner.
“The goalie tried to get in my head a little bit. He kind of stood up at the ball for as long as he could,” Yanez said. “I try to make that moment about myself and my shot rather than about the goalie and just trust that I can put it where I want to when I pick my spot.”
Pandemonium ensued at Bello, with the entire Jumbo team mobbing Yanez in front of the bench. After a frustrating 88 minutes spent weathering fierce winds and rain, the Jumbos finally got their goal and with it, their seventh win.
“It was a really, really big win,” Yanez said. “It was one we wanted to have, especially for the NCAA tournament. We really want to take care of those out-of-conference games.”
On a day in which the program’s seniors were honored, the impact they had on the team was on display for all to see. Persistence, togetherness, calmness and determination, all values extolled by experienced leaders, were critical in the team weathering both the natural elements and an equally determined opposition.
“It’s all about leadership,” Clivio said. "[With] situations like this weekend, it’s easy to get frustrated. It’s easy to start pointing fingers as to why we haven’t scored yet but everybody on the field had a good attitude. … We kept going.”
The seniors are hoping that their last dance continues to be a successful one, as Tufts looks to extend its undefeated streak playing Bates on Oct. 14 at Bello Field.
“The guys are hungry,” Clivio said. “Everybody’s been fully energized in practice, and the group is really hungry to go get six points this weekend.”