Indian Soccer Looks for Redemption

By Thomas Hauch

After losing to Princeton this past week, the Dartmouth Men’s Soccer Team (4-3-1, 0-1 Ivy) is looking for redemption in its upcoming match against Yale (1-8-1, 0-1 Ivy). 

In spite of the loss to Princeton, the Indians have shown confidence and poise throughout the early stages of this season. According to Daniel Keat, co-captain of the squad, the Indians have been able to build a strong lineup after losing several key players last year. “I think when you lose good players you either need to replace them or have other players step up and fill those roles. I think we have both of those at the moment, which is healthy going forward.”

The newer players have certainly had an opportunity to mature. As Coach Jeff Cook explained in an interview last Friday,  “We’ve tried to schedule a very difficult non-conference schedule to prepare us” There is no postseason tournament in the Ivy League, but the regular season champion receives an honorary bid to the NCAA finals. Needless to say, Dartmouth has worked tirelessly to prepare for those matches. 

And with the experience gained from a number of games, the Indians are working swiftly to address the flaws that have surfaced in their play. As Coach Cook points out, “Dartmouth has always been a traditionally strong defensive team,” garnering goals through set pieces rather than attacking play. With a defensive line composed entirely of seniors, this season’s squad is certainly no exception. In addition, returning from last year is goalkeeper Sean Donovan. Now in his second year on the starting squad, Donovan has proven his leadership and reliability on the field.

But the inability to capitalize on scoring opportunities has proven to be a setback in some of the Indians’ matches. Although Dartmouth outshot its opponent during last week’s match at UMass Amherst, for example, the end result was a 1-1 tie that remained unsettled through double overtime.  In the following match against Princeton, the Indians once again garnered plenty of opportunities.  Although they outshot the Tigers 16-14, however, those efforts were not enough to avoid a stinging 0-3 defeat.

Asked last Friday about their match against Yale, Coach Cook was wary of offering too much speculation ahead of time. “It is a case of a coaching cliché, but it is one game at a time.” Looking at the Indians’ schedule, his caution is easy enough to understand. Throughout the past week, the Indians have had to deal with almost nonstop travel. “It’s a tough stretch for us, because we have Princeton, then we have UVM, away again, right in the middle of the week.

To deal with the very busy season, Cook stresses the importance of “Winning off the field.” He and his staff try to help the players organize their academic load, maintain proper nutrition, and above all, find enough time for rest. As Cook explains, “If you’re able to go onto the field with a clear mind, you’re that much more likely to win.”

With nine seniors, all motivated by the finality of this season, Cook has also worked to ease the individual pressures and burdens among his players. One of the ways he has pursued this goal is by fostering “small partnerships within the team.” Among the defensive line, seniors Bryan Guidicelli and Teo Larsson-Sax have been starting together and trying to work well as a pair. 

On the opposite end of the field, senior Andrew Olsen and junior Lucky Mkosana have proven to be a dynamic duo. With 20 career goals, Lucky already ranks ninth among all-time Ivy League scorers, just 13 away from the record of 33, held by Bob Drawbaugh ‘54. He has 48 career points (goals and assists), ranking seventh and just 29 points away from Vladdy Stanojevic’s ‘90 record of 77.

The few insights that Coach Cook did offer about their upcoming match were carefully tempered. He acknowledged that Yale has struggled to find much of a balance this season. Weaknesses in their defensive line have given their opponents chances, while their offense has failed to make much of an impact.  But even though he believes the Indians are better prepared going into the match, nothing is ever certain in soccer.  

“Last year, at the stage of the season when we played them, they had not had a lot of success. But, as you learn in the Ivy League, that game went into overtime.” Although Dartmouth had more chances and better possession of the ball, the end result was nevertheless a narrow victory. As he pointed out, “it’s a very cruel sport. You can play well and still lose very easily.” 

Both Coach Cook and midfielder Daniel Keat agreed, however, that the return to Burnham Field would be a welcomed break from travel.  Dartmouth has led the Ivy League in attendance for the past three seasons, and the spectators have aided the Indians in a tremendous 21-4-3 record at home. As Keat was proud to boast, “Burnham field has been incredible for Dartmouth Soccer. The atmosphere that is created by student and local support really gets the team going no matter who we are playing.”

Although fraternity Rush will likely put a damper on attendance this weekend, the level of energy among fans should be all the greater for it. Back at home, and with their focus sharpened by a loss to Princeton, the Indians should prove to be an intractable opponent. A win against Yale would buoy the team onwards as they face tougher Ivy League opponents.

When asked about the League as a whole, and where Dartmouth stacks up against the rest, Cook explained that nothing is certain until the season is over. But he made sure to add that on its good day, “[Dartmouth] can defeat any opponent in the country, no matter its size, its scholarships, or its ranking.”