October 20, 2011

M. SOCCER | Revitalized Red Sets Sights on Postseason

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Starting off on the wrong foot can set a bad precedent for the rest of a season. The men’s soccer team tried to hit the ground running at the beginning of the 2011 season, coming off an extremely successful preseason, according to head coach Jaro Zawislan. However, the Red failed to make the first three box scores reflect the team’s hard work.

“We did a lot of growing up in three games,” said senior midfielder and captain Jimmy Lannon. “Starting off the season 0-1-2 was scary because we didn’t know where it was going to go from there. The Niagara game — I said it before and will say it again — was important for us. We learned a lot about ourselves losing that game. We learned what we had to fix, what we had to do [and] that we really had to be committed to what we were doing.”

After the rough start — perhaps one very reminiscent of the previous season for some of the returning players — the team came back strong, going on a four-game, 10-goal shutout streak against Long Island, Hofstra, Bing­hamton and St. Joseph’s. According to senior forward Will Ogden, the winning streak was a testament to an improving defensive back line — which learned how to close in gaps and fill the holes — as well as an increase in scoring opportunities created by the front line.

“Our main approach to the game is high pressure all across the field and that starts in the front line,” Ogden said. “Obviously, the defensive line is responsible for defending more than anything else, but the forwards, in addition to creating goals, we are also the first line of defense. When the other team has the ball and is swinging it along the back, it is the responsibility of the forwards to constantly put pressure on them and force them to cough up the ball up the field.”

The eighth game of the season, an away match against St. Bonaventure, provided a reality check for the Red, halting the shutout streak with a unsettling tie, 1-1. Though the game did not break Cornell’s undefeated streak, a tie is never the desired result for the Red. As the season progressed, the team got accustomed to putting more tallies in the win column.

“I think that at the beginning of the year we didn’t really know what we were,” said sophomore striker Daniel Haber. “Last year we had a lot of close games where we felt like we should have come out on top, with a couple bounces here and there, but we didn’t feel like we deserved to win as much … Then we started to win and we learned how to win … Last year we were so surprised after a win. We just have to continue to prove to ourselves that we are good enough and that we can continue the streak.”

And  they did just that. The team bounced back from the tie and racked up four more wins — two decided by late-game goals from Haber.

“The sheer amount that we have out-shot teams is definitely a testament to how dangerous we are going forward,” said senior defender Kyle Parsons. “Also, the fact that we’ve only given up seven goals in 12 games is a testament to our defense. Although stats don’t tell the whole picture and never will, the overall stats this season are pretty telling of what is going on.”

The Red has complied stats that the program has not seen in years. Just this week, Cornell was ranked in the Top-25 of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) poll for the first time in 10 years. With the program holding the best record in the Ivy League (3-0) and sitting seven games over .500, people are starting to take notice; however, the team realizes this successful streak could be over at any time.

“At any time this could end,” said junior goaltender Rick Pflasterer. “We have 11 unbeaten [games], but if we lose one, as Jimmy always says, it all goes away. We’ve got to keep looking forward to the next game and getting the job done.”

“One could call it a formula or formation or style of play that’s in place, but you always want to try to perfect it on both sides of the ball,” Zawislan said. “Play crisper, quicker, stronger — perfect the execution of the game.”

With just four games left in the season, the Red keeps looking forward. This weekend’s game against Brown, which coincides with Soccer Weekend this year, could decide whether Cornell sees tournament play in the upcoming weeks. As always, the players are not letting themselves look too far into the future. Instead, they prefer to play one game at a time.

“Our outlook is to keep improving and keep this streak going,” said freshman defender Peter Chodas. “We need to get a positive result against Brown. Hopefully there will be a lot of people there and we keep our momentum going.”

Original Author: Lauren Ritter