Fans and players alike were all smiles after the final whistle on Saturday afternoon at Kraft field. The Tufts men’s soccer team put out a strong performance on Homecoming weekend for a 1-0 win against Middlebury. After losing two consecutive NESCAC games on the road, the Jumbos were happy to return home to a lively crowd. The team played at a high tempo throughout the game and kept the pressure on the Panthers from start to finish.
“It was extremely important [to come out strong],” coach Josh Shapiro said. “We thought we deserved something from both games last weekend, and to not get it was disappointing.”
Tufts amassed 13 shots in the game with four on goal. The first shot came in the seventh minute, when junior forward and leading scorer Nathan Majumder sent a ball wide right of the net. One minute later, Majumder set junior midfielder Zach Halliday up for a shot that flew just over the crossbar. Another quality scoring opportunity came in the 23rd minute when junior midfielder Luis Echeverria attempted a bicycle kick, but the shot sailed just high of the crossbar.
Middlebury only mustered three shots in the game, with just one requiring a save from junior goalkeeper Scott Greenwood. Although both teams remained scoreless for the first 45 minutes of the game, Tufts outshot Middlebury seven to one during that time period.
Despite the Jumbos’ inability to capitalize on their scoring opportunities early on, Shapiro insisted that pre-game jitters during Homecoming were not the case.
“[There were] no nerves,” Shapiro said. “If anything, we were excited.”
The Jumbos came out aggressive in the second half and scored within 10 minutes of returning to the field. Senior tri-captain Jason Kayne possessed the ball and sent it upfield to Majumder, who was able to get his foot on the ball in the left side of the box. His shot sailed past junior goalie Greg Sydor, putting Tufts in the lead in the 53rd minute.
“Kayne has such good vision on the field,” Majumder said. “I know whenever he has the ball and is driving at a defender that if I make a run behind the defense, he’ll get me the ball. I’ve been trying to look for that through ball more often, so when he got the ball in the midfield, I just cut diagonally behind the defender that engaged him. And he played me a beautiful ball down to the left side of the goal. The goalie charged, so I just hit it one time and was able to slip it through into the net.”
Greenwood posted his fifth shutout of the season. Despite helping to keep the Panthers at bay for much of the game, Greenwood had to save himself in the 78th minute, when Middlebury senior midfielder Tyler Bonini had the ball in the box in a one-on-one situation with the former all-conference keeper. Greenwood dove and saved the shot from 10 yards out to preserve the lead — and the win — for Tufts. He also collected some individual accolades in the process with his 23rd career shutout, setting a new Tufts record.
The win brings the Jumbos’ record to 6-3-1 on the season and 4-2-1 in the conference. This puts Tufts in a three-way tie for second place with Conn. College and Middlebury, two teams that Tufts has already beaten this year. All three teams sit behind Amherst, who owns a 5-0-0 conference record (10-0 overall) and is ranked No. 2 in the country.
“The game had big implications in terms of NESCAC standings, as well as for our chances of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament in a month’s time,” Majumder said. “Everybody knew what was necessary to get the win, and I think it showed with our ability to possess through them and put more shots on goal than we had in past games.”
Up next for Tufts is a non-conference home game today against non-conference opponent Gordon College and then a trip to Bates on Saturday. The Jumbos look to build on this strong performance in order to put themselves in a good position for the postseason NESCAC tournament.
“The fact that we’ve seen what it takes to get the results we want will definitely help us finish the season out strong,” Majumder said. “We had a similar stumble around midseason last year where we didn’t win for four games, and…of course, we [also] lost in the first round of the NESCAC tourney. So we know how to bounce back from disappointments like the stretch we just went through.”
This was the mantra when the stakes became higher last season, and the team hopes it will work to perfection once again.