With five games still on the schedule, 2012 has been a record-making year for Cornell men’s soccer. The No. 16 Red has extended its school record to 26 straight games with a goal, has experienced its best start to a season in program history and has finished its out-of-conference play with a spotless record.
During Fall Break, Cornell (11-0-0, 2-0-0 Ivy League) picked up its two latest victories, competing against Ivy rival Harvard (1-6-3, 0-1-1) on Saturday in Cambridge, Mass. and neighboring Colgate (3-5-5, 1-0-2 Patriot League) on Tuesday in Hamilton, N.Y.
Competing in its second conference game of the season, it was important that Cornell earned a positive result against the Harvard Crimson on Saturday afternoon. The Ivy League is notorious for its unpredictability and competitiveness because without a tournament at the end of conference play, every game has the power to make or break a season.
“We knew going into the game, it would be a very difficult game,” said head coach Jaro Zawislan. “Going to Harvard and getting a positive result ... would be hard. We knew that they would be a quality team and our opinion of the team has not changed.”
Both teams brought a high intensity to the field, fighting to take control of the game from the first whistle. Harvard pressured the Red right out of the gate, sending a shot hurtling towards netminder Rick Pflasterer in the first five minutes. Diving for the ball, the senior denied Crimson player Zach Wlfenzon the goal and recorded the first of six save on the night — a new season high.
“It was a very hard fought game,” Pflasterer said. “We are developing a significant rivalry between us and Harvard. We are both competitors and there was nothing short of that on the field this weekend.”
Hitting the ground running, the Red established its offense fairly quickly, with junior midfielder/forward Stephen Reisert earning the first goal of the night at 9:30. Senior attacking midfielder Nico Nissl caught the ball in the center of the field and slotted it to Reisert, who fired it off low to the right past Harvard goalkeeper Joe Festa. Cornell earned the 1-0 lead, which it maintained through most of the first half.
“It was nice to be able to get on the scoreboard first after a few games where we were trailing early in the game,” said sophomore midfielder Conor Goepel.
According to Zawislan, the most dangerous times in a game for a scoring opportunity are at the beginning of a half, after another goal was scored and in the final moments of a half. Harvard was desperate to find a place on the scoreboard and with 2:25 remaining in the first half, the Crimson put the heat on the Red and finally broke through. Freshman forward Oliver White tapped a rebound past Pflasterer and settled the game at one-all heading into the break.
“Obviously we are really geared towards getting the shutout — that completes our victories, especially as a goalkeeper and part of the back line,” Pflasterer said. “But in the end, we got the result and that’s what’s most important and not getting the shutout gives us a couple more things to look at and see what we’re doing wrong and specifically how that can affect us down the road.”
Goepel lead the Red into battle during the second half, notching a goal and an assist. At the 63-minute mark, junior defender Patrick Slogic headed the ball past Festa and gave Cornell the 2-1 lead. Junior forward Daniel Haber took a shot from the left corner of the box that was blocked, so he sent it toward Goepel who found 6-5 Slogic in the right place at the right time. Goepel put the game away just over 13 minutes later after receiving a pass from senior forward Tyler Regan as the two streaked up the field toward Festa in goal. Cornell fought for the entire 90 minutes to secure the 3-1 win over the Crimson.
“Ivy League games are very tough, very intense with little margin for error,” Zawislan said. “You have to play from the first whistle to the last whistle ... and focus for the whole game.”
With just the bus ride home to celebrate, the Red began preparing for the Colgate Raiders as soon as the team returned to campus. Looking to the next game on the schedule, Zawislan said that his team does not harbor on previous achievements when beginning preparation for its next opponent.
“I give credit to our players and their character — they are staying humble and focused on the next game,” he said.
On Tuesday night, Cornell extended its win streak to 11 in a decisive 3-1 victory over Colgate. However, despite the positive result, the game was much closer than the final score indicated. Nissl scored his first goal of the season with just 38 second remaining on the clock.
“Priorities are always to take care of the defensive side first, but when you have the opportunity to put a third goal in and transition to attack you do that,” Zawislan explained.
The Red had the offensive edge for most of the game, with Goepel lighting up the scoreboard in the 20th minute. Reisert caught the ball from Nissl in Cornell’s offensive half and passed it off to Goepel, who was positioned just five yards from the Raiders’ box. The sophomore recorded his sixth goal of the season, as well as his 20th career point.
“We came out really strong against Colgate and I think it was one of the better starts of the season,” Goepel said.
Cornell dominated the next 60 minutes, with Haber making his presence on the field known at 78:50 when he beat a Colgate defender and sent a shot past Liam Stapleton in goal. The junior gave the Red the 2-0 lead, as he recorded his 15th goal of the year. However, true to any game’s unpredictable nature, Colgate struck while the fire was still hot and the Red was celebrating the 2-0 lead. Shane Conlin sent an unassisted shot past Pflasterer just 24 seconds after Haber’s winner. Colgate brought the game within one at 2-1, making the last 10 minutes of play tense on both sides of the field.
“Our whole strategy was that we had to defend and we had to keep our lead and not let them score,” Nissl said.
The senior forward set the Red’s mind at ease with 38 seconds left to play when he scored the game-icing goal, giving Cornell the 3-1 victory in Hamilton.
“It was nice to relieve the pressure from the team,” Nissl explained.
The Raiders gave Cornell a run for its money, as the Red battled for the full 90 minutes to keep its unblemished streak intact.
“Although we’ve won every game, we’ve had easier times in the games where we’ve gone on top first and have been able to control the pace of the game remaining from that and not having to play from behind,” Goepel said.
Looking ahead to this weekend, the men’s soccer team has another dangerous competitor lined up. Cornell will host Yale (3-5-3, 0-1-1) at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Berman Field for its annual Alumni Weekend. Zawislan emphasized that his team works hard to earn every win this year and will bring that same determined attitude to the pitch on Saturday.
“Every game this season we’ve had to earn our result. There has not been a single game where we can look back and say that game we didn’t have to show up and play at the highest level possible,” he said. “Every game we have to go out there and prepare to outplay and outcompete the other team and execute the game plan. That’s how we put ourselves in the position to succeed.”
With a strong preparation that has dated back to the preseason in August, the team will look to shatter the school record for consecutive victories, as well as earn three more points in the highly competitive Ivy League conference. However, despite the notable achievements that the Red has accomplished week after week, according to Zawislan, the past 11 wins will not play a role on game day.
“A previous result will not have an effect on the scoreboard at the beginning of the game,” he explained.
Yale has been experiencing a rough season, leading into this weekend’s game. Scoring a conference-low five goals all season, the Bulldogs are the only Ivy team yet to score a goal in conference play. The team has not scored since Sept. 23 in a game against Marist, reflecting that the team’s offense is not as strong as its defense. The back line has only let nine goals by in its 11 games, matching Cornell for the second-best mark in the Ivies. While Yale leads the series, 45-23, over Cornell, last year the Red walked away with a 2-0 shutout.
Another highlight of Saturday will be the Red’s annual contest to “Break the Berman Record,” as Cornell hopes to attract over 1,000 fans to Berman. The number of supporters for the men’s soccer program have steadily been gaining strength in recent weeks, as more fans have turned their attention to the undefeated Red. When Penn came to town on Sept. 29, over 700 fans flooded into the stands to support the team.
“This weekend we are going to need that same energy [from the Penn game] and we’re hoping to exponentially increase that,” Pflasterer said. “We’re really focused on having that fan base bring us through and breaking the Berman Record. Hopefully we’ll have 1,000 plus people and that will be an atmosphere that I haven’t experienced at Cornell yet.”
Acting as a 12th player on the field, the fans have contributed to gaining momentum on the field, according to Cornell players, including Nissl.
“The fans play a huge role in the game,” he said. “A huge credit is to the fans who come out who give us the energy, cheering for us the whole time. You definitely feel the tired legs in the second half and having a great support from the crowd gives you the energy to keep fighting.”
In addition to breaking a record for the number of fans in attendance, Cornell is raising money for pediatric cancer research as local businesses are donating money for each person that is in attendance.