Men’s soccer is off to another hot start to begin the season, having notched its third and fourth wins against Keene St. and Brandeis, respectively this past week. After handling Keene St. with a sure-handed 3–1 victory Wednesday, the Jumbos turned their attention to the No. 25-ranked Brandeis Judges, whom they shut out in a decisive 2–0 victory on Saturday.
Coach Josh Shapiro, who has led Tufts to 25 consecutive games without losing, spoke about the team’s rivalry against Brandeis. The Judges remain the last team to beat the Jumbos, dating back to their meeting in the 2017 NCAA Div. III tournament, where Brandeis upset Tufts 1–0 in the sectional final.
“It’s a huge rivalry game,” Shapiro said. “But our guys are always up for it.”
Historically, Brandeis has represented a tough-as-nails opponent for Tufts, so the victory was even more meaningful to the squad. The game proved to be a scrappy, physical affair with a lot of energy coming from both teams.
However, according to sophomore defender Will Raphael, it was the Jumbos who set the tone right from the get-go, coming out with speed and determination.
“We had a dominant first five minutes to set the tone,” Raphael said. “Once we got the ball moving, Brandeis couldn’t hang with us.”
Being an old rivalry, both teams aimed to bring their best stuff to the pitch. The rivalry also led to lots of pushing and jostling, with very physical play styles from both squads.
“We kind of knew it would be a very physical, hard-fought game,” senior defender/midfielder Zach Trevorrow said.
The physical nature of Saturday’s game came to a head when, after Tufts scored their first goal of the night following a corner kick, Brandeis midfielder Max Breiter was forced out of the match with a red card after a scuffle broke out. The Judges had to play the rest of the match with a man down.
Raphael spoke about how the Jumbos were able to score their first goal.
“That happened as the result of pretty good pressure on a corner kick,” Raphael said. “We’re a team with a lot of aerial threat.”
Playing with a man up, the Jumbos were able to build off of their strong start by controlling the tempo and clamping down defensively, Shapiro explained.
“I was really pleased with our ability to sustain pressure and put good sequences together,” Shapiro said. “We kept the pressure up and consistently put eight to nine passes together before they could clear it.”
Ultimately, Tufts avoided making similar mistakes to Brandeis and maintained a focused, level-headed approach. Through the rest of the match, they avoided conceding fouls so that they would keep their one-man advantage throughout the remainder of the match.
Tufts closed out the win over Brandeis with fantastic rotations on the defensive side, sealing the affair at 2–0 with a header from senior midfielder Brett Rojas in the 58th minute.
To some players on the team, it appeared as though the tempo of the game worked primarily in Tufts’ favor.
“Once we were up a man and up a goal, our rotations really tired them out,” Trevorrow said.
The atmosphere at the game was absolutely fantastic. Playing in an evening game illuminated by the floodlights on Bello field, cheered on by countless alumni, the Jumbos capped off their impressive performance and took down a high-profile ranked opponent in the process. They left the pitch that night remaining undefeated and proving they are here to stay after incredible runs in the past couple of years.
The mental toughness and preparedness that characterized the team in this match have been a big theme this season. Following such a dominant run to the NESCAC championship last year, the team has been laser-focused on making sure to avoid the championship hangover and stay atop its game.
“We focus on one game at a time,” Raphael said. “In the locker room, we keep a large whiteboard with the name of our next opponent written on it.”
The Jumbos have kicked off their season with an immensely strong start, but the team refuses to let that eat into its focus, and coach Shapiro is determined to round the team into its midseason form.
“I want the team to focus on putting together a quality, 90-minute performance,” Shapiro said. “We need to take care of the details at every part of the field.”
With that in mind, the team now turns its attention to Wheaton, where they will remain on home turf to try and stretch their undefeated streak this season to five games. Following that match, which will take place on Tuesday at 7 p.m., a gauntlet of four straight conference games await the Jumbos. Tufts will close out September by facing off against Colby and Bates, before opening October with Wesleyan and Trinity.
For the Jumbos though, this grind is just a part of the process.
“Our mentality remains the same,” Shapiro said. “One game at a time.”