October 3, 2008

M. Soccer Faces Defensive-Minded Penn

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If the men’s soccer team is to have any chance of accomplishing its goal of making the NCAA tournament, it will almost certainly have to finish first in the Ivy League. That quest begins tomorrow night, as Cornell hosts Penn at Berman Field in the Red’s first Ivy game of the year.
“It is our first Ivy League game, and these are the games that really make or break our season,” said senior defender Dana Flanders. “We will be playing against a bunch of good teams, and it will be a good test for us. We didn’t start the season as well as we would have liked to but this is our opportunity, this game this weekend against Penn, to turn things around. So this is really important, our most important game so far.”
The Red has played to a 1-6 record in non-conference games at this point in the season and will be squaring off against the undefeated Quakers (6-0-3).
While the Red players recognize the magnitude of Ivy play and the significance of this game, sophomore midfielder Scott Caldwell explained that the players refuse to be intimidated by the Quaker’s strong start.
“We approach every game as if the [opposing] team is really good and that we will need to play hard,” Caldwell said. “We are not afraid of them or their record. That is not really going to be a factor. In Ivy League play, anything can really happen. It’s just two teams going out there and battling.”[img_assist|nid=32389|title=The wanderer|desc=Senior Dana Flanders (11) is one of several Red players who have switched positions this year. Flanders’ move from offense to defense has made an impact.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Cornell lost its first five games of the season, but the team has since been much happier with its play. In its last two games, the Red picked up its first win of the year and then suffered a heartbreaking, 1-0, loss to a thriving Binghamton team.
“I think that the majority of [the early season problems] was just getting used to playing with each other,” Flanders said. “We had a couple of new faces, and we graduated a couple of key figures and important pieces. We had to kind of move guys around a bit to find out where their best spots are. Now that we have solidified things a little more, we are more comfortable playing with each other and I think it shows. In our past couple of games we have put together much better performances.
Tomorrow afternoon, Cornell will be up against a Penn team that, through nine games, has held its opponents to just four goals. Comparatively, Cornell has netted just three goals on the year and has surrendered 18 to its opponents.
Senior Penn goalkeeper Drew Healy has started all nine games for the Quakers and registered a school record seven straight shutouts to start the year. Healy explained that his exceptional start to the season can be attributed to his squad’s renewed defensive focus at all positions.
“I think we can attribute our unbeaten start to our defensive mindset as a team,” said Healy. “It is not just the back four. We are playing defense from top to bottom. Everyone is working hard and for each other and I think that is the important thing.”
Cornell is not overly worried about the dominant Penn defense, however, as the Red players know that they will get their opportunities to score on Saturday.
“We just have to play our game,” said Caldwell. “We will get shots and we just have to find the back of the net. We have been working harder just because we know that Ivy games are the most important part of our season. Everyone is just going a little bit harder in practice and giving that extra little bit of effort.”
Cornell has been preparing for Penn in practice this week, but Flanders explained that the team has mostly been sticking to its typical training routine. The Cornell players believe that they have a chance to beat any team on their schedule if they enforce their own style of play, maintain their game-plan and play as a unit.
“We have just been working on a lot of things that we always do like team shape, working the ball out of the back, making good passes up top,” said Flanders. “We know that we can compete with every Ivy League team that we play,” explained Flanders. “We have for the last three years that I’ve been here, so we are just going to have to play extremely hard.”