Although the Jumbos dominated their match on Saturday at Williams – especially in the first half – and generated more shots on goal than the host Ephs, Tufts was unable to finish any of its chances while Williams struck in the 65th minute and held on for a hard?fought 1?0 win.
With the loss, the Jumbos fell to 6?2?3 overall and 3?2?3 in the NESCAC, putting them in fourth place in the conference standings with two league matches to play. At the end of the season, the top four clubs in the NESCAC host playoffs matches. According to coach Josh Shapiro, finishing in the top four was one of the team’s stated goals at the beginning of the season and is still well within reach if the team continues to play up to the level that it did against Williams on Saturday.
“The focus going forward is to not only put good performances together, but we also need to get results now,” Shapiro said. “We’ll probably need to win out to get a top?four seed and host in the NESCAC tournament.”
The Williams goal came in the 65th minute when sophomore midfielder Michael Madding won a loose ball and found sophomore forward Zach Grady open at the top of the box. Grady only had time to take one touch, but he sent a perfect pass to the far post to senior co?captain midfielder Peter Christman. Christman ran on to the ball and finished the play, beating junior goalkeeper Wyatt Zeller for what would end up being the game?winning strike.
It was the Jumbos, though, that produced the majority of dangerous scoring opportunities. Tufts finished with six shots on goal, including three from sophomore forward Maxime Hoppenot. Williams’ back line, led by senior goalkeeper Than Finan, held strong and handled every chance that the Jumbos could muster.
“I think more than anything, the loss was a product of us not taking our chances because I was generally pleased with how we played,” Shapiro said. “But I think we were pretty unlucky as well. There were maybe four balls cleared off the line, and their keeper did very well with every shot that we took.”
Tufts has been plagued by its inability to finish scoring chances for the last several matches. Besides a four?goal performance against Bates, the Jumbos have only scored two goals in their last five conference matches. In four of those matches, however, Tufts produced more shots on goal than its opponent, demonstrating that the team is playing well but just not taking advantage of its offensive opportunities.
Defensively, the Jumbos have been solid all season. The Jumbos rank fourth in the league in goals allowed per match, giving up less than one goal per game in both NESCAC and non?conference matches. Still, Shapiro stressed that the entire team could play at an even higher level defensively at the end of the regular season and in the conference tournament.
“I think any team that concedes less than a goal per game is doing a good job,” he said. “We have been giving up a goal in most games, and that’s certainly not ideal, but I don’t think it’s attributed to poor defense in general.”
Zeller echoed his coach’s statement.
“You can never lose a game if you don’t get scored on,” he said. “But the defensive players are all 11 players on the field. If everybody is not pressuring effectively, then the other team can get a break at the net. I think everybody has not adopted the mindset that it has to be defense first.”
The Jumbos take on MIT, one of the top teams in New England, on Wednesday in a game that could have major NCAA tournament implications for both squads. After Saturday’s strong performance and disappointing result, the team is anxious to get back on to the field against a quality non?conference opponent.
“MIT is a very talented team. Especially after Saturday’s loss, our attention and focus will definitely be on MIT,” Zeller said. “I think the team needs to get a big mid?week victory to continue to build our confidence after Saturday’s performance.”
Four days later, Tufts will be in action again at Kraft Field against Hamilton. Last season, the Continentals rallied late to beat the Jumbos in a match that cost the team a home playoff match. Tufts will therefore need a strong performance on Saturday to make sure that history does not repeat itself.
“We lost a very tough game there last year,” Shapiro said. “I’ll be reminding the boys of that this week.”