Men’s soccer goes 2–0 to open 2018 campaign

Senior defender and co-captain Sterling Weatherbie plays a pass in Tufts' 1–0 win over UMass Boston on Nov. 19, 2016. Evan Sayles for Tufts Athletics

The No. 5 Jumbos kicked off their season with back-to-back wins against a pair of regional opponents. On Tuesday, they faced the UMass Boston Beacons (1–4) at home, scoring three unanswered goals for a comfortable victory, and followed with a 1–0 overtime victory in Waterville, Maine against the Colby Mules (1–1) on Saturday.

Sophomore forward Max Jacobs scored the game-winner against Colby. In the 93rd minute, sophomore midfielder Travis Van Brewer fed a through ball to Jacobs, who cut toward the edge of the box. Jacobs brought the ball under control, then slotted a shot to the left of Colby senior goalkeeper Dan Carlson and into the corner of the net to claim the sudden-death victory.

Preceding the goal were two halves of scoreless play, during which the ball spent a significant amount of time in the middle third as the two teams jockeyed for possession. Although there was a lot of back and forth, the Jumbos clearly dominated the attack throughout the first 45 minutes. Five minutes in, Tufts had three distinct opportunities in the box, generated by a long throw-in and two corner kicks, that placed the ball in dangerous positions in front of the Colby goal.

The Jumbos carried out a structured offensive campaign that utilized long passes on both wings, which were then crossed into the box. However, the Mules thwarted all 11 of the visitors’ shots in the first half.

According to Tufts coach Joshua Shapiro, the team was prepared for Colby’s defensive style of play.

“Colby is one of the more organized, sound and defensive teams that we play every year,” he said. “It’s always a difficult team to break down, especially early in the year when we’re not in our flow yet offensively. So it’s always a difficult task to handle. They’re organized, committed, scrappy. You have to be really sharp on the day in order to really open them up, and they’re not going to give you that many opportunities.”

Colby came out of halftime with a much stronger performance, threatening Tufts’ net multiple times in the first three minutes. Compared to their three first-half shots, the Mules mustered seven in the second half, forcing four saves from senior goalkeeper and co-captain Conner Mieth.

Tufts attempted to capitalize on numerous set piece opportunities, including two free kicks mere yards outside the box, within the first 10 minutes of the second half. At 52:44, junior midfielder Jack Delaney placed a corner kick into the box, and several shots that followed were deflected by a wall of Colby defenders before sophomore defender Biagio Paoletta knocked it wide left of the goalpost. Minutes later, Delaney took another corner that Tufts first-year defender Ian Daly headed towards the net, with Carlson leaping to save it.

The Jumbos earned eight corner kicks in the second half alone, culminating in a total of 13. Between these chances and its free kicks, Tufts’ set piece opportunities were dangerous and difficult to answer. Through a combination of skill, luck and sheer strength in numbers, though, the hosts held off the Jumbos until the 92:14 mark.

“I don’t know [why we couldn’t score sooner],” Shapiro said. “I think that’s what we have to figure out. We had ample opportunity and created chances to get goals. There were many chances, one by the post, one went to the goalie’s hands. Sometimes, even though we got the ball into the box, we weren’t able to get to it first. Colby grew into the game [in the second half] and got forward more … We were comfortable on most of the saves, and we definitely pushed hard back.”

The Jumbos had better luck finding the back of the net facing the Beacons on Tuesday, as they scored three times on their home turf at Bello Field. The team played in its standard 4-1-4-1 formation, which allowed junior midfielder Zach Lane and senior defender and co-captain Sterling Weatherbie to exploit open space on the right wing. Weatherbie repeatedly fed through balls to Lane, who was able to beat his defender down the wing and send crosses into the box.

“Part of the reason that our wing play was dangerous during the game on both sides, but also specifically Sterling and I [on the right wing], was because we knew that due to the formation that [UMass Boston] was playing, their biggest weakness was in-between their wide midfielder and their outside center back,” Lane said. “Because of that, there was a lot of space. So I told Sterling early in the game that any time he had the ball, they weren’t cutting off the line. So if he could get it up the line and then come with me, we’d have a two-on-one.”

Part of the reason why both Lane and Weatherbie were able to play so far up the field was due to the Jumbos’ experience.

“Last year we had a lot of the ball a lot of games, and we expect to again, so we’re less worried about our defenders being so far back,” Lane said. “I think since our defense has a good awareness of what our shape should be, if Sterling steps into the attack we still have three guys back who can shift over. We only have one guy up top, so the further Sterling pushes up, the further I can push up, there’s more time for the forwards to get in the box if we’re playing a two-on-one against an outside back instead of me playing by myself.”

This strategy led to the Jumbos’ first goal — a clean header into the near post by junior midfielder/forward Gavin Tasker, with the assist from Lane — inside the first five minutes of the match.

Tufts completely dominated possession, as UMass Boston struggled to execute a controlled offensive possession. The visitors’ most threatening opportunity came in the 29th minute, when Mieth was confronted with a three-on-one fast break and came out of his goal to challenge the Beacons’ forwards. UMass Boston junior midfielder/forward Nilton de Andrade evaded Mieth’s efforts, but his shot flew harmlessly over the crossbar.

In the 33rd minute, sophomore midfielder/forward Mati Cano logged his first collegiate appearance after being injured his entire first year, replacing Tasker. Within 46 seconds, Cano received a pass from Van Brewer on the left wing, weaved past two defender and fired the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net. The goal capitalized on flaws in the Beacons’ defense, as Cano was allowed to dribble virtually unchallenged from the halfway line into the box before any defenders confronted him.

The Jumbos’ final goal was scored in a two-on-two play with Van Brewer and junior forward Joe Braun leading the strike for Tufts. It was ultimately Van Brewer who successfully fired off the shot with 18:32 left to play.

Though Tufts’ two games played out differently, they both demonstrated a key feature of the team’s attack — its wing play and ability to move the ball quickly and deliver crosses into the box.

The team will face Keene State (2–2) at home on Tuesday night before preparing for a weekend double-header against Bates (1–1) and Wheaton (2–2).