Waking up at 4 a.m. might not sound like a fun way to start a morning, but last Thursday the men’s soccer team was up bright and early to catch a plane. The Red began its 2012 fall campaign with a two-game road trip to the sunny West coast, where Cornell took on Cal State Fullerton (1-3-0) and Loyola Marymount (0-2-1). A beast from the East, the Red dominated both Californian teams — bringing back two “W”’s to start the season 2-0.
“I think it was kind of refreshing to play against teams that are not from upstate New York,” said junior striker Daniel Haber.
Beginning the season by playing against out-of-conference teams, such as Fullerton and Loyola Marymount, was a very big deal for the Red. Competing against Californian schools offered the players an experience of a lifetime to travel across the country to play against teams who offer a different brand of soccer.
“It was also cool to play against these California teams that have a totally different style of play,” said junior defender Jake Kirsch. “Seeing how I thought we were able to impose our style of play on them, it was East versus West.”
On Friday against Fullerton, Kirsch had the best game of his collegiate career. Since joining Cornell’s program in 2010, Kirsch has experienced limited play time; however, the past two seasons have been preparation leading up to the first game of the 2012 season, where Kirsch scored his first goal with three minutes left to play.
“It was a similar set-up to a corner kick, but just closer in,” Kirsch said. “I am one of three main targets in set-pieces and I just came up and was able to beat my man and Haber played in a great ball and I finished my chance. It was an awesome way to come back after letting them tie the game and ending the first game ... It was an emotional rollercoaster. Being able to pull that out was an awesome win to begin the season.”
Haber put Cornell on the scoreboard early in the game, scoring the Red’s first goal of the year at the 31-minute mark. Sophomore defender Atticus DeProspo was credited with his first collegiate point with an assist. DeProspo controlled the ball heading down the left flank, as Haber positioned himself in the center of the penalty box. A clean pass between the two put the ball directly at Haber’s feet with no Fullerton player to challenge him. A shot sent low to the left snagged the net and put the Red in control.
“Getting ahead on the first goal was very significant — scoring the first goal of the season and getting that out of the way going with the lead in the halftime,” said head coach Jaro Zawislan.
Cornell looked like it was going to be able to maintain the lead and end the night with a 1-0 win; however, the Titans found a crack in the Red’s defense and were able to equalize in the 83rd minute. The game’s momentum shifted and Kirsch stepped in the 87th minute, outmuscling his opponent for the point.
“The game was going well; [we] definitely had it under control,” Haber said. “[Fullerton] actually had a very rowdy crowd and they gained some momentum midway through the second half. It felt like something was going to happen soon and then they finally equalized. Then [Kirsch] actually got the team together and said, ‘Alright, time to calm down and get our stuff together.’ … It was good for us to overcome that in a hostile environment.”
The win marked the first season-opening victory for the Red since 2007 — its second ever win against an opponent from California. With the ‘W,’ Cornell has improved its non-conference undefeated streak to nine games — dating back to the 2011 season opener.
With one win under its belt, the Red had a day off to relax and recuperate before meeting Loyola Marymount for an afternoon match, where Cornell ran away with a 2-0 shutout and improved to 2-0 overall. The Lion’s offense was no match for the Red’s defense, as back line shut down every attempt Loyola could mount. Senior netminder Rick Pflasterer punched away the Lions’ only two shots on goal for a simple shutout, as well as a 10-game non-conference unbeaten streak.
Haber netted the Red’s two goals of the day — scoring in the 21st and 54th minutes. The junior striker got the ball after a Lions defender cleared it from the box and sent it flying to the top corner of the net, where the goalie had no chance of defending it.
With a one-point lead, the Red held control of the scoreboard; despite the Lions maintaining possession for most of the first half. Loyola Marymount played a different brand of soccer than what the Red has grown accustomed to on the East coast, so the match kept Cornell’s players on their toes.
“Right from the start of play, California teams definitely have a different style of play; they try to keep the ball on the ground,” Kirsch said. “They play slower, but sometimes they get caught up in possession. I think the way we play works well because when they make a mistake we are right on them and able to attack quickly. We definitely imposed our will and our athleticism really showed in [the game against Loyola Marymount].”
Haber’s second goal of the day came when the Red was able to generate a three-on-three opportunity against the Lions. Senior forward Tyler Regan streaked up the left side and shot the ball off toward Haber, who was able to send the ball cleanly into the back of the net.
Haber credited the Red being so sharp to a change in the game’s overall pace. Most of the teams that the Red plays throughout the upstate New York area are known for having an explosive presence on the field, whereas the Californian opponents from this weekend proved that the West coast favors a slower approach.
“What we are used to is we have to be so fit because every team we play against is like ‘Go, go, go, go, go!’ so we get tired even though we are fit and [the Californian teams] are slowing the game down so that we didn’t even have to use our fitness. So we were so fresh that any mistake that they did make we were jumping on them right away and counterattacking.”
With the win against Loyola Marymount, Cornell improved on another record. The Red has scored at least one goal in the past 18 games, moving it closer to the program record of 21 games set back in 1970-71. Cornell was also the only program in the nation to score at least one goal in every game last season.
Playing against the out-of-conference opponents allows the Red to gain more experience on the field as the season progresses.
“That’s definitely one of the reasons why we have out of conference schedules, so we are exposed to different styles of play,” Zawislan said. “That’s why you try to go out of the region to so you have that exposure to teams from different parts of the country … I think that games [against Fullerton and Loyola Marymount] gave us that type of experience. I think that the most important thing in this whole picture was fitness and being able to maintain high pressure. The high pace of the game was preparation that our players have done not just last week or in preseason, but the work they have put in in the past to create the athletic foundations for those games.”
Being in California also afforded the team the opportunity to connect with Cornell fans from the West coast, including famous Cornell soccer alumni Bruce Arena ’73 and Dave Sarachan ’76, the head coach and assistant head coach of the MLS’s L.A. Galaxy, respectively.
“It was very important for our program to be visible on the West coast, not only from a recruiting point of view for future prospects, but more importantly because it was a great opportunity to connect with Cornell alumni on the West coast,” Zawislan said.
Capping off the successful weekend, it was announced on Monday that Haber was named the Ivy League’s Player of the Week, as well as a member of College Soccer News' National Team of the Week. With his two goals on Sunday, Haber became the next Red player to score twice in one game — something which the program has not seen since Matt Bouraee notched two against Dartmouth on Nov. 8, 2008.