The Cornell men’s soccer team (0-8-2, 0-1-0 Ivy) travels to Cambridge this Saturday for its second Ivy League game this season. The team is scheduled to face the Crimson (4-3-2, 0-0-1), who heads into the match fresh off a tie with Yale and currently leads the Red in conference competition by a single point.
Currently, all Ivy teams — with the exception of Penn and Cornell — have a single point from tying matches over the weekend. Cornell lost its first conference match against the Quakers (3-1-4, 1-0) after Penn’s Alec Neumann — recently named Ivy League Player of the Week — scored during the second overtime of the match.
Cornell head coach John Smith attributes the heartbreaking outcome of the game to a general lack of intensity in the first quarter of the match. The two teams battled more evenly throughout the second half and overtime, with three times as many chances on goal in the second half than the first.
“[That change in focus] was the difference,” Smith said. “From 25 minutes onwards in the game … we got stuck in, we brought intensity, we brought some passion.”
This weekend in Cambridge, from the very first kickoff, the coach hopes the team can find a more competitive edge.
“You don’t get anything in this sport when you’re too nice on the field,” said Smith. “You’ve got to earn the right to play good soccer and there’s a fight to be won in the first 25 minutes of a game… You have to win that battle and if you don’t, invariably you’ll come [out] on the losing side and that’s nothing to do with skill.”
Beginning the game with a more competitive mindset will give the team the momentum necessary to finally pull together the pieces that they’ve been developing in training.
“It’s setting the tone,” said Smith, “You get after it and you keep getting after it and if you do that good things will happen.”
The team is eager for a rebound this weekend and recognizes the game as an opportunity to turn around what has proved to be a difficult season thus far. A win would be a tremendous step forward, not only with respect to this season’s record, but more importantly for its effect on team confidence.
“I think a win would bring the confidence they need to kind of kick on and really make things interesting the rest of the way in the Ivy League,” said Smith. “I think if we did get a win what it would do for this group is it would potentially set them up for something special.”
Harvard will be another challenging opponent. The Crimson had four total wins during the preseason and were ranked second in the Ivy League in the 2015 season. Even so, senior co-captain Zach Bialik says the team is confident looking ahead to the weekend.
“We are a very resilient squad and full of belief,” said Bialik.
Resiliency is one of the strongest characteristics of the Cornell men this fall. This trait has always excited head coach John Smith, who also believes his team is made of “the right stuff.”
“They’re showing a heck of a lot of character,” said Smith, “You would never know it’s a group that has not won a game yet. You just wouldn’t. The aim will be to continue to bring that and hopefully as we’re going through here we can turn the corner and get some positive results.”
For a team as persevering as the Red, preseason records are far less important than the amount the team has grown through arduous training and consistent work ethic.
“We have learned a tremendous amount since the arrival of our new head coach and are on the verge of transferring our new soccer tactics to tangible wins,” Bialik said.
Outcomes aside, the team has taken a strategic step up this season. In the match against Penn, Cornell had 20 different shooting opportunities, a season-high and more than double than the team’s average for shots per game this year.
“We are piecing together all the factors that it takes to earn a win this weekend,” Bialik added. “The team is driven and determined to earn the three points this weekend.”
With six games left in Ivy League play, there is ample opportunity for the Red to rise as one of the top teams in the conference. A win this weekend would pull Cornell to the top half of the league standings and give the team much needed momentum to make the postseason a success.
“There could quite well still be a story within this group,” said Smith, “An incredible one.”