Cornell men’s soccer (6-3-2, 1-1-2 Ivy) scored goals galore last week, breezing past Central New York rival Colgate (5-8-1, 3-2-1 Patriot League) on Tuesday, Oct. 10, before taking on Princeton (4-6-1, 1-2-1 Ivy) Saturday in a very important matchup for the Red’s Ivy league playoff chances.
Leading into last week’s matches, head coach John Smith had hinted towards a switch back to the more direct style of play his team has used in recent years, and this was certainly on display against Colgate. Cornell forced the ball forwards often, trying to put pressure on a Raider defense that the Red had an advantage over in terms of speed and size.
Early in the match, Cornell focused play down the right hand side. Freshman striker Alex Harris often dropped short to receive long passes, connecting with sophomore right midfielder Daniel Samways and freshman central midfielder Connor Miller before spinning in behind to receive dangerous through passes. It would be Harris who would strike first, when eight minutes in he was fouled in the box, converting the resulting penalty to put the Red up 1-0 early. Just over a minute later, Harris scored again, doubling Cornell’s lead after beating two Colgate defenders off the dribble and slotting the ball into the bottom left corner from outside the box.
This early Cornell lead forced a normally defensive Colgate team out of its shell, and for the rest of the first half the game became very transitional, with both teams committing lots of players forward. Cornell got off more shots in this phase, but the Raiders would take advantage of one of their counter attacks when striker Aidan Davock won a loose ball in the corner before crossing for Timmy Donovan, who converted a free header to take the score to 2-1.
In the second half, the Red was able to take control of the game, maintaining possession as they tried to run out the clock. Chasing the lead, Colgate forced the ball forward often, allowing Cornell defenders to double and triple and regain possession. Pregame personnel changes from Coach Smith, which saw senior defender Kisa Kiingi move to right back and junior fullback Wilson Eisner move to the center, gave the back line more size and mobility to win battles against a tenacious Colgate forward line.
Eisner particularly shone in his new role, frequently stepping into midfield with and without the ball and stopping Colgate attacks before they happened. The technically astute defender credited his performance to experience at the center back position with his summer club team.
“I’ve played center back before and actually played a few games there over the summer,” Eisner said. “I think that has helped me make the quick switch.”
This degree of control made the rest of the game relatively easy for the Red. After freshman midfielder Balazs Feher scored a breathtaking goal off of a pass from Eisner, Cornell took the game 3-1.
Following this result, Cornell carried momentum into a Saturday matchup against Princeton. Despite rainy conditions, Cornell fans left the match happy after the home team dismantled the Tigers.
From the opening whistle, the Red was excellent, and it took them just over five minutes to score when an incredible cross from Kiingi sailed over the Princeton defense for Feher to volley home. Eight minutes later, Harris was awarded yet another penalty, which he once again converted to double the lead. Before the first half was over, energetic junior midfielder Alioune Ka came off the bench and caused havoc for the Princeton defense, rising high on a corner kick to power home a header and give Cornell a 3-0 advantage, which they took into halftime.
In the second half it was more of the same, with Harris making it 4-0 after twisting around two Tiger defenders and the goalkeeper and smashing the ball home from close range. For Harris, last week’s exploits leave him with 11 goals so far in what has been a special freshman season, putting him tied for third in the nation for both goals and goals per game. Less than a minute later, Ka would add a fifth following a defensive error and a pass from Feher. After senior defender Andrew Johnson slipped into a Princeton attacker in the box, Princeton got one back but was unable to complete the comeback, and the game ended at 5-1.
Cornell came into the game second to last in the Ivy League with two points, but following the emphatic victory now sit in playoff position with three conference matches to play. For Eisner, this result was as important for team morale as it was in the standings.
“It was definitely great for the team to finally get a win in the Ivy League, especially because it was a very convincing one,” Eisner said. “After some frustrating results, I think this game was good for everyone to get a glimpse at the potential this group has.”
Cornell takes to the field against Binghamton tomorrow at 6 p.m. The match will take place at the Bearcat Sports Complex in Vestal, New York and will be streamed live on ESPN+.