Men’s soccer suffers worst start to season since 2009

Midfielder Kevin Lawson, a senior, attempts to run the ball past a Middlebury defender in the homecoming game on Oct. 10, 2015. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts men’s soccer suffered its worst start to the season since 2009, when the program fell to 0-4-1 before winning a game. Although the 2016 Jumbos aren’t at that point yet, their 0-1-1 record is a far cry from last season’s 5-0-0 start.

Tufts traveled to Waterville, Maine on Saturday to face off against the Colby Mules in both teams’ first conference matchup of the season. Although Tufts dominated the flow of the game, firing off 25 shots to Colby’s 13, the game ended after two periods of overtime in a 1-1 tie that moved both teams to 0-0-1 in the season.

Despite the tie, Tufts played a more controlled game than they did last Wednesday against Endicott. The Jumbos pressured early and senior forward Gaston Becherano found the net on an unassisted strike low from outside the 18-yard box just after the nine minute mark.

The Mules responded quickly when sophomore Jacob Towers received a pass inside the Jumbos’ box to the side of senior goalkeeper Scott Greenwood in the 14th minute. From there, Towers was able to easily slide the ball into the net for the equalizer.

Although Tufts kept up its offensive pressure, Colby first-year goalkeeper Avery Gibson thwarted multiple attempts and many others were off-target. First-year midfielder/forward Gavin Tasker saw an unlucky shot go off the crossbar in the opening minutes. Several minutes after his goal, Becherano unleashed a shot that went wide, and senior midfielder Kevin Lawson’s attempt at goal was broken up by Gibson late in the first half.

With three minutes remaining in the first half, senior co-captain Zach Halliday, a midfielder, was unable to capitalize on a penalty opportunity because Gibson correctly predicted the direction of the shot and blocked it.

Although the Mules led in shooting attempts during the first half, 9-7, the Jumbos kicked it up a notch in the second half, dominating with 11 shots to the Mules’ one. Once again, the woodwork thwarted Tufts’ best scoring opportunity when Lawson’s shot in the 57th minute hit the right post. The game remained tied through the whistle and entered into sudden-death overtime.

“It’s hard to work on putting the ball in the net, because you have one chance and you just have to do whatever it takes to put the ball in the net,” senior co-captain Nathan Majumder said. “It’s definitely something we can work on to be more organized around the goal, and maybe a little more ambitious. Sometimes we play with the ball too much instead of just getting a shot off. I think we did better against Colby in terms of getting the ball in the box, and we had a lot of early crosses.”

During the first overtime period Tufts shot seven times to Colby’s one shot, but Gibson frustrated all of Tufts’ attempts. First-year forward Joseph Braun was a formidable force at the front, constantly pressuring the Mules’ defense in an attempt to produce a scoring opportunity, but the Mules successfully kept the score tied. The second overtime period also saw no scoring, and the game ended 1-1.

“I think yesterday we actually played pretty well,” junior defender Matt Zinner said. “You could see a marked improvement from our performance against Endicott compared to yesterday. It was a case of us being unlucky to not finish some of our chances.”

Tufts kicked off its season with an unprecedented 1-0 defeat to the Endicott Gulls last Wednesday. This was Tufts’ first loss against Endicott in seven meetings dating back to 2003. Tufts struggled to adhere to the style of soccer it typically tries to play in the season opener.

After the Gulls netted a goal in the 57th minute, the Jumbos went into overdrive, trying to produce a response. Tufts shot 11 times in the second half compared with Endicott’s three shots, and Endicott’s keeper, senior Nick Weinstein, made eight total saves. The desperation on the Tufts side emerged late in the second half, when players started to lose discipline and foul their opponents. By the end of the contest, Tufts had committed 20 fouls, compared to Endicott’s eight.

“Against Endicott, we went one down in a game we thought we should be winning and should be possessing against them,”Majumder said. “We started to freak out a little bit, bombing the ball over into our striker’s head. It’s harder to possess when you do that. That’s something that you have to do at some point to get the defense facing their own goal and get them turned around, but we got away from the style of soccer that we like to play.”

The Endicott game was a learning experience for the team, which is still trying to adapt to its relatively young roster and overall lack of experience. The biggest differences in the team compared with last year’s squad come in the defense and midfield, where four starters graduated and left key spots to be filled. This is especially critical, as the midfield is where the tempo of the game is set and where the ball is transitioned from defense to offense.

Tufts faces Gordon away today in a non-conference game, but plays twice at home this weekend. The first home matchup is against Bates in a conference game at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, and the second against Plymouth St. on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.