In the year following a loss in a lone match against Binghamton (3-1-3), the Cornell men’s soccer team (0-3-2) managed a tie to continue the annual series, reflecting on the progress of the team over the past year.
But outcomes are not the focus for first-year head coach John Smith, who measures success with more calculated nuance than simply a win, loss or tie.
“I do firmly believe there are a million wins and losses in a game,” Smith said. “It could just be once in a game… Where they do the one thing that collectively they’ve not been doing right, the one time they do it right and it works – boom.”
The match again Binghamton was certainly no exception. Cornell’s squad contributed a focused and aggressive offensive effort consistently throughout the game, with 10 different chances on goal distributed evenly throughout its duration.
Sophomore midfielder Ryan Watters was excited with the result and the effort he saw from his team saying, “it speaks volumes about us when we’re still pushing forward as a unit in the last minute of the second overtime, putting everything on the line to get the winning goal.”
The team’s only goal several minutes into the second half came from freshman striker George Pedlow, the first goal of his collegiate career. In addition to Pedlow, the freshman class in general has been consistently stepping up and making major contributions across the field this season, according to Smith.
Defensively, the team was able to hold off last minute efforts from Binghamton in overtime to keep the score even. Overall, the Bearcats were only able to get three shots on target. These kinds of positives are precisely what Smith hopes will continue to develop.
In particular, the team hopes to increase the number of shots taken during a game. Throughout the entire season last year, the Red only scored a total of nine goals. Smith doesn’t attribute this to a lack of ability, but rather emphasizes a lack of confidence in front of the goal.
“More than 50 percent of the game is in your head,” he said. “[It’s about] how you emotionally approach something… Quite often I’ll watch guys and a ball’s coming across to them and I’ll know when they’ve talked themselves out of believing they can score.”
Even so, he is reluctant to characterize this as a weakness, instead focusing on the positive potential of the group as a whole. The psychological aspect of the game is arguably his biggest focus and one of the team’s most significant strengths. What makes Smith so confident is what he’s seen of the collective attitude and character of the team.
“I’m a big believer in character,” he said. “Most everything that I do centers around character and emotional development.”
More than physical or technical talent, Smith is excited by what goes on in a player’s mind, shown in the way he handles the recruiting process.
“When I recruit the priority for me above all else is someone’s character,” he said. “What is he made of, is he a guy that’s going to have the right work ethic, is he filled with moral fiber?”
In just his first year, Smith hopes to continue to develop team character during his time at Cornell and is confident that the outcomes will arise from more process-oriented goals. He is not worried so much about the results of early season games and says that — only four weeks into training — the team is still developing an identity but has already shown tremendous growth and coachability.
“The buy in process has already begun,” he said. “That’s a massive strength of this team, regardless of what goes on, they’re going to go to the end.”
The team moves on to play Saint Francis (3-2-0) in the first match of the Cornell-hosted Inaria Cup this Friday evening. Based on their record and significant two-goal win over Penn State, the Red Flash will undoubtedly be a demanding opponent.
Even more challenging, Friday’s game will be the fourth in a series of six games in less than two weeks for the Red. That is over nine hours of game time and hardly more than a day between each game.
Despite these challenges, the optimism surrounding the team for the upcoming game is infectious. Watters is confident Cornell’s progress will continue to show.
“The coaching staff made sure we were all fit before the season, and it’s really showing,” Watters said. “We’re halfway through the toughest stretch of the season, and we’re only getting better each game.”
The Red hopes to continue maturing during the nonconference season, but its eyes are set on the Ivy League championship. After a physically and psychologically demanding preseason, coach Smith believes the team will be competitive with the best of the league. But for now they are taking the season one play at a time.
“This program will end up being great,” he said. “And that’s a fact.”