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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Men’s soccer outlasts Colby, maintains strong conference positioning

The Jumbos pounce early on the Mules and hold on to secure the 3–2 win.


Daniel Yanez is pictured against Hamilton on Sept. 23.

A squad as talented as the Tufts men’s soccer team naturally sets out to win its conference at the beginning of the season, and in the NESCAC, the best way to do that is to earn a high seed heading into the postseason. By doing this, a team optimizes its hopes of reaping a home field advantage during the playoffs since quarterfinals matches are hosted by the higher seed in each game and the semifinals and finals are hosted by the highest seed remaining in the tournament. 

Having already dropped points this year to two of the league’s best, Connecticut College and Amherst, as well as a slightly less daunting Wesleyan, winning the remaining NESCAC games would be extremely beneficial for the Jumbos. On Saturday, the team headed up to a grass pitch in Waterville, Maine to face the Colby Mules where they sought to topple a squad it tied with 11 last season.

In addition to the experience developed by this young squad, a difference between this year’s team and last year’s team is the ability to prepare for grass games on Kraft Field — a beautifully replenished grass pitch adjacent to Ellis Oval. It was this high-quality preparation by the Jumbos, along with their talent and will to win that propelled them to the 32 victory.

When the match began, it took only nine minutes and 17 seconds for them to get on the board; after the Tufts defense halted a Colby counterattack, they had a superb sequence of passes that would lead to the goal. They capitalized on this ball movement when sophomore outside back Mateo Bargagna made a beautiful run to the endline, received the ball and cut it back to junior winger Ethan Feigin, who hammered it home with a one-timer for goal number one.

Just 20 minutes later, Feigin had a very shifty skill run from half to just outside of the box. He then laid it back to senior center midfielder Liam Gerkin who took a touch and then hit it just far enough to the right side that the Mules’ goalkeeper could not get enough on it to prevent the 20 goal.

Nonetheless, the Jumbos’ uber-productive half did not stop there. In the 41st minute, sophomore winger Mason Shultz had a long throw that was batted around in the box before first-year center defensive midfielder Bijan Akhtarzandi-Das got a shot in. The shot was cleared by Colby first-year defender Jacob Sams, but not before it crossed the line, making the score 30.

In this game, along with the others so far this year, sophomore center-midfielder Daniel Yanez has been a key piece to the team’s offensive success. In particular, his vision and ability to play pinpoint, long, threaded balls into his forwards — including a beautiful assist to senior winger Sean Traynor in the Hamilton game — have created numerous offensive opportunities.

Especially with those [wingers] running in behind, they have a lot of quality, so that’s my goal, to pick them out as much as I can,” Yanez said.

The Jumbos’ first-half dominance extended to the defensive end as well, as demonstrated by the Mules’ only garnering one shot. Yanez discussed the squad’s intensity that enabled it to be so prolific.

I thought, especially in the first half, the energy was really good and we were rolling. We were winning all the 50:50s, it felt like we were keeping the ball really well,” Yanez said. “We knew it was a three point game we needed to have, and we kind of just started with our energy really high. I’m glad we got those three goals in the first half because it really pulled through for us.”

While the Jumbos still had an offensive presence in the second half, the Mules woke up, recording a total of four shots to the Jumbos’ five.

These Colby opportunities turned into more than just that in the 49th minute, when junior midfielder Arkam Traore slipped in on the goal, where his shot was deflected in to make the score 31. Then, in the 74th minute of the contest, sophomore forward Eduardo Casanova collected the second ball off of a punt from his goalkeeper, took on the Jumbos’ defense, cut the ball back across his body and struck it from outside the box for a bar-down goal.

Colby had a few more chances before the end of the match but Tufts’ defense and sophomore goalkeeper Nikola Antic were able to hold on to secure the 32 win. However, considering their first-half performance, it would be fair to say that the Jumbos’ second half was more dangerous than it could have been.

“I think this is dangerous when you get a big lead in a NESCAC game like that. I think we just fell asleep a little bit and got a little bit lazy and then once they got that early, first goal, we kind of had to grind it out after that,” Yanez said. “I think we just let our mentality drop a little bit when we went up three goals, and [that] definitely made it a little tougher on ourselves for the last 20ish minutes.”

Still, if the team plays like it did in the first half, it will have a good shot at coming away with impressive results against steeper competition. In fact, on Tuesday, the squad took on No. 9 Babson and battled them to a 00 tie. In the remaining few weeks of the regular season, Tufts will face several tough opponents in Emerson, Bates, Williams, Middlebury and Bowdoin. This stretch will be a great indicator of what can be expected of the team in the postseason.

“I think we’re on a really good streak right now,” Yanez said. “As long as we keep our energy and mentality up, hopefully, we keep rolling and getting the results we were lacking a little bit last year.”

Throughout this season and last, the question has not been whether the Jumbos have talent but whether they’re able to put it to use by scoring more goals. If the Colby game is a representative sample of what can be expected of the squad come playoff time, there’s no limit to how far they can go.