On Saturday, the Jumbos travel to Amherst, Mass. where the 2019 NESCAC men’s soccer semifinals are being hosted. With a win on Saturday, the Jumbos would advance to the NESCAC Championship game on Sunday. The second-seeded Jumbos are matched up against the fourth-seeded Williams Ephs.
Williams earned its place in the semifinals by defeating the Bates Bobcats 3–0 in the quarterfinals, while Tufts secured its spot in the semifinals by defeating the seventh-seeded Hamilton Continentals 3–0 in the quarterfinals last Saturday. While the Jumbos started slowly, they ended up outshooting Hamilton 18 to three and not allowing a single shot on goal. The win against Hamilton adds to the recent streak of wins over Conn. College, Middlebury and Bowdoin.
Senior midfielder Brett Rojas spoke about the momentum that has built up from this winning streak.
“I think it’s definitely clicking [right now],” Rojas said. “We know there are still things we can improve upon going forward but obviously getting four wins in a row is always good heading into the playoffs. We’re in a good spot going forward.”
Coach Josh Shapiro also spoke of this winning streak and the joy that has come along with it.
“We finished well in the regular season, the goal should be to finish well during the postseason as well and take every opportunity we can to win games and enjoy the time [we have] playing together,” he said.
This semifinal matchup will be the second time the Jumbos and Ephs have crossed paths this season. In their first meeting on Sept. 7, Tufts captured a road victory over Williams 3–2. It was a back and forth contest in which the Jumbos rallied from a 2–1 deficit and got a late goal from junior midfielder Travis Van Brewer to secure the win.
Despite the outcome from the first game, this second matchup between Tufts and Williams is likely to be very different from the first. Both teams have had the whole season to develop their identities and strengths, which are surely more advanced and refined than they were when these two teams met at the beginning of the season, as senior midfielder Brett Rojas described.
“Since we played them in the second game of the season and the first game of NESCAC, it was kind of our first serious test and with such a short preseason we hadn’t really had a lot of our tactical training really in set yet,” Rojas said. “I think we’ve definitely grown a lot as a team, as I’m sure they have.”
Although the game will be different than the first, the one constant is that the Tufts defenders will still have to deal with Williams’ Demian Gass. The dangerous forward is tied for fourth among NESCAC players with seven goals, one of which came against Tufts in the teams’ previous meeting. Gass also ranks second in shots taken among NESCAC players with a total of 74.
Shapiro recognizes the ability of Gass and the threat that he poses to the Tufts defense.
“We saw him first-hand [in the previous matchup], he ran over one of our defenders and scored,” Shapiro said. “He is pacey so it’s going to be important for us to limit his opportunities on the counter.”
In addition to containing Gass, Shapiro emphasized the importance of the Jumbos’ ability to control and dictate the flow of the game.
“It is going to be really important for us to establish our possession game early and play the game on our terms,” he said.
Rojas echoed Shapiro’s emphasis on the significance of possession.
“We’re going to try to keep possession, swing the ball out wide and really value the ball and when an opportunity presents itself, try and break the lines and get through.”
While the broad game plan might be to focus on the dominant and familiar possession approach, Shapiro is looking for the team to tighten the screws as they approach this semifinal matchup.
“I think our set piece attacking and defending is an area we want to focus on to see if we can be a little bit more efficient offensively and a little bit sharper defensively,” Shapiro said. “Our offensive final area quality — can we become a little bit sharper in the final third? We’ll be emphasizing some of that final area attacking stuff, and that’s the biggest thing I would say at this point.”
Furthermore, Shapiro believes that the Jumbos can depend on the strength of depth within their squad.
“In these double [game] weekends, our depth becomes very important and our second group of attackers has been almost as or just as productive as our first group,” Shapiro said.
If the Jumbos can take down the Ephs on Saturday, they will face the winner of the other semifinal matchup in the NESCAC Championship on Sunday. The other semifinal features the first-seeded Amherst Mammoths and the sixth-seeded Middlebury Panthers.
With the first stage of postseason play almost over, Rojas took some time to reflect on his time as a Jumbo while staying focused on the team’s present goals.
“It’s kind of crazy, to be in my last NESCAC tournament,” Rojas said. “I mean we’re excited, obviously we’re at Amherst so [we] just kind of want to relish that moment considering they beat us 2–1 in overtime. So we’re hoping that we’ll be able to advance to play them in the final on their pitch. Reflecting on the four years has been incredible and to have it be in its real last stretch here is kind of crazy … but we’re excited about where the team is and hopefully we can go chase couple trophies here.”