Men’s Soccer: Jumbos remain undefeated ahead of trio of conference away games

9/16/17 – Medford/Somerville, MA – Sophomore striker Joseph Braun fights to stay in possession of the ball during the game against Conn. College on Saturday, Sept. (Rachael Meyer / The Tufts Daily)

The stifling defense of the Tufts men’s soccer team remained the theme this past weekend, as it continued its unbeaten streak with a 0–0 double-overtime tie against Conn. College on Saturday afternoon and a 2–0 victory against Trinity the following day. The Jumbos still have yet to concede a goal all season.

The weekend results brought the Jumbos to a 2–0–1 record in NESCAC play, good enough for seven points and sole position of first place in the conference standings.

The first half of the Trinity game featured a stalemate style of play, with both teams rarely testing the opposing goalkeepers. This fact remained for Trinity’s offense, generating three shots all game, and only requiring two saves from junior goalkeeper Conner Mieth. However, the Jumbos offense opened up after the second half whistle.

First-year midfielder/forward Max Jacobs started the second half and played an integral role in the Jumbos’ success generating seven shots in the first eight minutes and holding possession in the Bantams’ third of the field consistently. The goal seemed inevitable for Tufts and it finally arrived in the 66th minute.

As he does so often, senior midfielder Tyler Kulcsar cleanly stripped the Trinity player of the ball leading to a swift counterattack. Senior midfielder Kevin Halliday then played sophomore midfielder/forward Gavin Tasker, who used his pace to carry the ball through the midfield. Tasker’s low through ball found fellow sophomore midfielder Zach Lane, who placed a left-footed shot past the Trinity keeper.

Lane’s goal ended up winning the game, but the Tufts attack continued through the half. Senior midfielder Dexter Eichhorst added to the tally with his first goal of the season in the 83rd minute off of senior defender Matt Zinner’s cross from the right wing.

Tufts’ consistent defense resembles that of a NESCAC and national champion. If the offense continues to play to their dominant potential, the Jumbos know they can make some noise deep into the season. But the team doesn’t plan on looking too far ahead.

“A mistake we have made in the past has been looking beyond games,” sophomore defender Tanner Jameson said. “We found taking the season one game at a time has proved to give us a mental edge. The leadership on the team does a great job keeping us on our next opponent every day in practice.”

On paper, the 110-minute scoreless battle with the Camels of Conn. College does not appear to the be the most entertaining match, but the game had plenty of exciting moments. Tufts was unquestionably the aggressor throughout the game, attempting 16 shots to Conn. College’s five.

The Jumbos’ best chance of the first half came in the 23rd minute. Lane made a run down the right flank and lofted a perfect cross to the back of the six-yard box. Halliday rose up uncontested and placed his header to the bottom right corner. But Conn. College goalie, first-year A.J. Marcucci — who was the main reason Conn. College was able to keep this game to a draw — quickly got down to record one of his eight saves.

Bruce Johnson, the Jumbos’ senior goalkeeper, played all of Saturday’s match, making three comfortable saves when he was called upon. The three shots on goal is a testament to the stingy defense Tufts has played all year. A defensive line that features both co-captains, senior Conor Coleman and junior Sterling Weatherbie, often goes to a formation with only three players in the back. The two stalwarts, along with Zinner, junior defender Jackson Najjar and Jameson deserve much of the credit, but they are quick to point out that much of the success is due to the Jumbos’ mentality of team defense.

“Our defensive success is contributed to by the entire team,” Coleman said. “Especially when we go three in the back, this team defense concept is really important. Everyone is bought into playing defense which makes the actual backline’s job much easier. It also doesn’t hurt that our backline is made up of guys who all played an important role on last year’s national championship team.”

So far this season, the Jumbos have struggled to consistently put the ball in the net. Saturday’s game was the Jumbos’ third game of the season that went into overtime after ending 0–0 in regulation. Tufts has scored eight goals in all competitions this year, four of which came from a romp over Plymouth State. When asked about what has to change up front, Coleman and Jameson echoed the same sentiment.

“Nothing has to change up top,” Jameson said. “From a talent perspective, the players we have in the front of the field are very dangerous and can break down any defense we play. As the season progresses we will continue to create opportunities, and I’m confident the goals will come.”

Tufts takes on Brandeis at Bello Field today before entering the most difficult stretch of its season, with three road games against NESCAC opponents. The Jumbos know this next week can set them up to win the NESCAC regular season title.

“Next week we have Wesleyan, Amherst and Hamilton all on the road,” Coleman said. “My sophomore year when we had those three games away, we came out with a total of one point. The upperclassmen remember and want revenge, but the main thing is staying focused and keep taking it one game at a time.”