Men’s soccer atop NESCAC after three game road trip

9/16/17 – Medford/Somerville, MA – Tufts striker Joseph Braun, '20, fights to stay in possession of the ball during the game against Connecticut College on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. (Rachael Meyer / The Tufts Daily)

The Tufts men’s soccer team recently underwent its most demanding stretch of the season yet, playing on the road against three top NESCAC teams in six days. The No. 12 Jumbos (7–1–1 overall, 4–1–1 NESCAC) demonstrated how they became the reigning national champions, as they gave up just one goal in recording two wins and one loss.

On Sunday, the Jumbos played their third and final road game of the stretch against the Hamilton Continentals (4–4–1 overall, 2–4–0 NESCAC).

“Any game on a Sunday right after a Saturday game is going to be a physical test because it’s not easy playing two games in a row,” assistant coach Jordan Ciuffetelli said.

Tufts responded well to the adversity of losing on Saturday, and got back into the swing of things by defeating Hamilton 1–0 on Sunday. On-field adjustments were key to the Jumbos’ success.

“We switched to three in the back against Hamilton, which I think helped a lot,” senior co-captain defender Conor Coleman said. “We were more dynamic up front that way.”

The Jumbos showed no sign of fatigue despite it being their third game of the week. Though unable to capitalize on scoring opportunities in the first half, Tufts comfortably controlled play. In the 59th minute, sophomore forward Joseph Braun scored his first goal of the season off a pass from the left side of the field from sophomore midfielder/defender Zachary Trevorrow. Tufts held Hamilton scoreless the rest of the way to end the weekend on a high note.

The day before, the Jumbos traveled to Amherst, Mass. for what the team knew would be an intense game against the No. 8 Mammoths (4–1–1 overall, 2–1–1 NESCAC).

“Amherst has probably been our biggest rivals in the NESCAC over the past couple of years, so this is a game that everyone looks forward to,” Coleman said.

Amherst plays what Ciufetelli described as “a more direct style of soccer,” and Tufts practiced and planned accordingly earlier in the week.

“We like to keep the ball, while [Amherst] relies on set pieces and long throw-ins to drive their scoring chances,” junior co-captain defender Sterling Weatherbie said. “There were really no surprises during that game [regarding to Amherst’s style of play].”

The two NESCAC powerhouses battled it out for all 90 minutes of the contest. Though Tufts outshot its opponent 22–8 — with 10 of the Jumbos’ 22 shots being on goal (versus the Mammoths’ five) — they were unable to finish any opportunities. Instead, Amherst scored the lone goal of the game on a fluke play. In the 62nd minute, a shot from distance ricocheted off the head of a Jumbo defender and into their own goal to give the Mammoths a 1–0 advantage.

Although the result was not what Tufts had hoped for, the team found solace in its high level of play against another top team.

“We played well and created the most chances I have seen us create against Amherst,” Coleman said. “Our shots just weren’t going in.”

The Jumbos took on the Wesleyan Cardinals (5–3–0 overall, 1–3–0 NESCAC) in their first in-conference away game of the season on Tuesday, Sept. 26. The Jumbos have made mid-week games a major focus this year, after winning only one of them last season.

“Prior to this game, we had scored one goal against Wesleyan since I have been at Tufts,” Coleman said. “So it was definitely a big game.”

Tufts came out strong, controlling the pace of the game for the majority of the first half. Senior midfielder Kevin Halliday scored the first goal for the Jumbos in the 30th minute with a header off a cross by sophomore midfielder Zach Lane. Tufts further capitalized on its opportunities in the second half. Eleven minutes after halftime, sophomore midfielder Brett Rojas played a ball into the box for first-year forward Max Jacobs, who scored his first collegiate goal to put Tufts up 2–0. The Jumbos continued to dominate the game, as Weatherbie’s volley from the top of the box in the 79th minute put a bow on the commanding 3–0 victory.

“It was one of the best second halves of soccer that we have played all season,” Weatherbie said.

During a week in which they played 270 total minutes of soccer, the Jumbos displayed the depth of their roster and the promise of many of their young first- and second-year players.

“Pretty much all of our young guys stepped on the field over the three games,” Ciuffetelli said. “[Max] Jacobs played extended minutes and got two starts. He was a nuisance in all three of the games, creating plenty of opportunities.”

The three-game stretch held particular significance for many of the team’s upperclassmen, who remember Tufts’ disappointing performance against the same three opponents in 2015.

“My sophomore year [in 2015], we had this same stretch of games, and we were 5–1 heading into them,” Coleman said. “We ended up getting one point in three games: We tied Wesleyan and lost to Amherst and Hamilton. After that Hamilton game, I remember having a team meeting in the locker room, and that was the low point of my Tufts soccer career. I had bad memories of this weekend series that I did not want to repeat, especially being in a leadership role.”

Tufts certainly had a much more positive experience this time around, playing some of their best soccer yet. After this weekend, the Jumbos have the best record in the NESCAC and rank 12th in the nation. Despite their high standing, the team is making sure to stay humble and focused.

“Our motto for the year is ‘next team up,’” Ciuffetelli said.

Coleman echoed a similar sentiment to that of his coach.

“Even though we are off to one of the best starts in Tufts soccer history, we still have to take things one game at a time,” he said. “The way we look at it, we are 0–0 going into the next game, and that’s how we are going to approach the rest of the season.”

On Saturday, the Jumbos will look to continue their success against the Middlebury Panthers (6–3–0 overall, 2–3–0 NESCAC). The homecoming match at Kraft Field kicks off at 2:30 p.m.