On Saturday night, the men’s soccer team suits up and takes to the pitch for its last home game of the season at Berman Field. With a perfect 7-0 record at home, the No. 15 Red (13-1-0, 4-1-0 Ivy League) will look to achieve a positive result against visiting Dartmouth (8-6-0, 4-1-0) in front of what the team hopes will be a huge Cornell crowd.
“We’re excited to play in front of our fans one more time,” said senior forward Tyler Regan. “This year we have experienced the best home crowds the program has ever seen and it makes it that much more enjoyable. It’s something we don’t take for granted.”
Riding off of the momentum of last week’s hard-fought 1-0 win against Princeton (6-2-2, 2-1-2), the Red has spent the past week mentally and physically preparing for the Green in what could possibly be the team’s toughest game of the season. Both Dartmouth and Cornell share a 4-1 record in the Ivy League, so this Saturday will be a battle between the two for second place in the conference standings.
“We had a really good week of practice,” said head coach Jaro Zawislan. “The training sessions have been productive, intense and focused. It shows the commitment of the players in preparation for the Dartmouth game.”
Heading into the match, the New Hampshire team holds a slight edge of 34-26-5 in the overall series. On Nov. 5, 2011, Dartmouth edged out the Red, 3-1, so the Green enters the weekend with a five-game winning streak against Cornell. However, despite the series record and current conference rankings, the Red is not feeling any extra pressure heading into Saturday, according to senior midfielder Nico Nissl.
“There is always pressure on every single game, but I don't think it affects this team at all,” he explained. “We are focused on one task and that is winning our next game against Dartmouth. What happens after that with Brown and the rankings are out of our control. The only thing we can control is how well we perform against Dartmouth. If we do our job correctly, the rest will fall into place. The ranking just simply makes things even more exciting and we have everything to play for right now.”
The Red will find quite the competitor in Dartmouth, as the Hanover team comes to Ithaca with three-game Ivy win streak — besting Penn, 3-1, Columbia, 2-1, and most recently Harvard, 3-1. The Green was forced to cancel a midweek game against New Hampshire due to Hurricane Sandy. In its four conference wins, the team has averaged more than two goals per game. In recent years, Dartmouth has made a trip to the NCAA Tournament seven of the last eight years, including consecutive appearances for five straight years.
Leading the Green offensively is sophomore forward Alex Adelabu, who has recorded nine goals and three assists for 21 points — placing him just behind Cornell junior striker Daniel Haber who has 41 points on 17 goals and seven assists. Junior forwards Andoni Georgiou and Patrick Murray are behind Adelabu in points (6), with three goals each. Defensively, Dartmouth has had a formidable season, with junior goalkeeper Noah Cohen anchoring the team in net. Cohen has a .754 save percentage, recording a 1.30 goals against average on 17 goals this season.
Shifting to the home team, Cornell enters this weekend on a high note. After last week’s rebound win over Princeton, the demoralizing 2-0 loss to League-leading Brown (12-1-2, 4-0-1) just two weekends ago is but a figment of the past. So far this season, the Red has outplayed Penn, 3-2, Harvard, 3-1, Yale, 3-0, and most recently Princeton, 1-0. The only blemish in Cornell’s season record came at the hands of Brown on Oct. 20.
Leading the Red on attack is Haber, who has a nation-leading 2.93 points per game and second-best in the country with 1.21 goals per game. Next on the team leaderboard in points are sophomore midfielder Conor Goepel (14), Regan (12) and Nissl (10). Holding down the defensive third of the field, senior netminder Rick Pflasterer has recorded four shutouts this season, boasting a .718 save percentage and a .79 goals against average.
As the clock ticks down to the end of the regular season, the team is not going to be complacent heading into the next two games, according to Pflasterer.
“We don’t want to sit on 13 wins and hope for the best,” he said. “We feel that we need to focus and finish our season just as strong as we started it.”
However, while the result of this weekend’s game will play a crucial role in determining Ivy League standings, the power truly rests in the hands of Brown, who commands the conference by one point. The outcome of the game between Yale and Brown on Saturday night will be pivotal in the race for first place.
"We aren't in a bad position [in the rankings] right now,” Pflasterer said. “Unfortunately, we do need some help via other results, but we'll be focusing on our performance first and foremost. That’s the way we have treated every game this season and that won’t change.”
Saturday’s game will also have special meaning for Cornell, as the team will be celebrating its Senior Night — honoring Nissl, Pflasterer and Regan.
“Looking at what they were able to experience here as part of the program and make the impact individually and as a group has been tremendous when you look back at the past four seasons,” Zawislan said. “I can’t say enough about their leadership qualities on and off the field.”
According to Regan, he is thankful for the close relationships he has been able to build on the field with his teammates and translate into off-field friendships.
“It’s an honor to be playing next to every one of the guys on our team, and it’s great to have each and every one of them as not only teammates but as friends,” he said. “It’s an incredible group and I feel extremely lucky to be going out on a season as successful, both on and off the field, as this one.”
Playing for Cornell has been a defining experience for some players, such as Nissl, who also described the ability to not only play alongside his current teammates but also act as a leader on the field as an honor.
“To be one of the three seniors on this extraordinary team is an honor. It is an honor to be able to play alongside these players who have worked so hard to get to where we are now,” he said. “Every player has had to overcome their own controversy and through that we have become stronger as a team. It is an experience I will not be able to forget and will cherish for the rest of my life.”