Tufts men’s soccer traveled to Brandeis on Saturday where the team pulled off a last-minute victory in the second half of overtime, extending their win streak to three. That streak ended on Tuesday, though, in a 1-0 defeat at home against Wesleyan.
In the first half of the Wesleyan game, Tufts started aggressively and managed four shots within the first 10 minutes. The Jumbos bombarded the Cardinals goal with 10 shots through halftime. First-year midfielder/forward Gavin Tasker and senior forward Gaston Becherano led the team with three shots each, but neither could find the back of the net. The first 45 minutes appeared as if they were going to end scoreless until Cardinals junior defender Nick Jackson capitalized on senior co-captain midfielder/defender Charlie Gruner’s free kick to put the Cardinals up 1-0 just before halftime.
Tufts continued to pressure the Wesleyan defense in the second half, coming within inches of scoring multiple times and generating nine shots to Wesleyan’s two, but Tufts was still unable to score. The Jumbos tried desperately for a late equalizer and managed a flurry of six shots in the last 15 minutes, but many of the shots were off target or turned away by senior goalkeeper Jack Katkavich. Tufts fell 1-0 at the final whistle.
“We need to improve our management of the details in the game,” coach Josh Shapiro said. “We are playing well, moving the ball well and dominating matches in possession and territory. However, our final ball and decisions are sometimes letting us down. We have a lot to be excited about and just need to improve in a few areas to be very good.”
Despite the tough loss that ended the Jumbos’ winning streak, some of the first-years stood out throughout the game, most notably Tasker and midfielder Zach Lane. Their speed and technical skills made things difficult for the Wesleyan outside defenders and their dangerous crosses created a lot of scoring opportunities.
“We’re excited to see them progress,” Shapiro said earlier this month. “I don’t think any of [the first-years] are perfect yet, but they are ambitious, talented and have an honest work-rate. That gives me a lot of confidence that we can get better and better.”
Tufts played a physical game against the Brandeis Owls on Saturday, committing 28 fouls to Brandeis’ 16. Tufts won in the end, but for the first half of the game, the two teams stalemated. Neither team had many opportunities, and both failed to capitalize on their chances. The Jumbos’ attack struggled in the first half: It took 37 minutes to create their first chance, with junior midfielder Tyler Kulcsar heading a shot high off a corner kick from first-year midfielder Brett Rojas.
The second half was similar, but the momentum started to shift in Tufts’ favor. The Jumbos had a total of nine shots in the half, four of which came from Rojas, forcing saves from the Owls’ junior goalkeeper Ben Woodhouse, but the game ended level and continued into overtime.
Overtime was relatively uneventful until the dying moments of the second period. First-year Tufts forward Joseph Braun took the ball and burst down the right wing, deftly avoiding a slide tackle on the edge of the box. From this newly-created space, Braun played a great ball on the ground into the box, finding junior midfielder Christian Zazzali who made a run inside. Zazzali smartly placed the ball into the top left corner, making the score 1-0 to Tufts with only seconds to go in the game.
It was an unusual game for the Jumbos, who fired off the fewest shots in a competition (14), including both overtimes, so far this season. This is a stark contrast to the 30 shots Tufts fired against Plymouth State and 38 attempts against Bates College a few weeks ago. Tufts was lucky to come away with the win, and the victory meant a lot, as Brandeis had defeated them in their two previous matchups.
“We were almost shocked by ourselves, by how well we were playing, because we knew [Brandeis] was a great opponent,” senior midfielder Kevin Lawson said.
According to senior co-captain and midfielder Zach Halliday, the team mentality was what made a difference in the game.
“We fought, competed and battled much better than we had all season, understanding the implications [of the game] and understanding the type of effort we would need to put in to get things done,” Halliday said.
After an eventful week, the Jumbos are now 3-3-1 in all games and 1-1-1 in the NESCAC conference. They face a tough double-header against Amherst and Hamilton during Homecoming, but Lawson believes they can handle the back-to-back games.
“I think, more than any team I’ve seen in my whole DIII soccer career, we have so much depth,” Lawson said. “There is very little variance in skill level. The last player on our bench is almost as effective as our first player on the field, so that gives us a unique ability to dig deep in the bench. Almost every player on the team sets foot on the field, and that really caters to a double-header.”
Tufts plays Amherst (2-0-1 in the NESCAC) this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and Hamilton (3-1-0 in NESCAC) at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, both at Bello Field.