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Men's soccer hosts top-flight defense in conference showdown

Nationally acclaimed Cornell back line to put Brown’s offensive players to the test

The men’s soccer team enters its fourth round of Ivy League play clinging to the top half of the standings. Following their 1-1 draw with Harvard, the Bears will face a surprisingly underperforming Cornell that has just three points after as many games of conference play.

Last weekend, Bruno (3-4-5, 1-1-1 Ivy) played perhaps its best 65 minutes of soccer of the season in the second half and extra time periods against the Crimson (8-3-1, 2-0-1). Had a few calls gone different ways, the Bears would be sitting atop the conference standings with Harvard, Dartmouth (7-4-1, 2-1-0) and Penn (6-6-6, 2-1-0).

Harvard is “one of the best teams in the league,” said Louis Zingas ’18. “To be able to tie them is something that definitely gives us a confidence boost moving forward. After tying a team on an eight-game unbeaten streak, we know we can hang with the best.”

On the other hand, in its most recent game, the Big Red (8-4-1, 1-2-0) narrowly edged Ivy bottom-dweller Yale (1-9-2, 0-3-0) in a 1-0 game that was scoreless until the 82nd minute. Cornell has struggled to produce in the attacking half of the field all season, a major weakness the Bears will have to exploit.

Zingas — who scored a vital goal in Bruno’s draw with Boston College (5-5-3, 1-4-1 ACC) and nearly won the game for the Bears against Harvard — was recently named Ivy League Rookie of the Week for his offensive and defensive contributions.

“We have a really talented freshmen class,” Zingas said. “So to be recognized like that, not only amongst my teammates, but amongst all the freshmen in the Ivy League really means a lot to me. Not only did I put the work in, but my team helped me a lot.”

The speedy midfielder and the entirety of the Bears offense will be tested by an immensely successful Big Red defense. Cornell has posted nine shutouts this season — the third highest total in all of Division I soccer. The backline also owns the sixth-best goals against average in the country at .46 goals per game.

Orchestrating the Cornell defense is senior goalkeeper Zach Zagorski. Despite his conference leading goals against and save percentages, the keeper ranks fourth among Ivy goalies in total saves. This dichotomy indicates that the Big Red defenders excel in preventing and blocking shots, keeping Zagorski from having to make many saves.

Cornell’s defensive prowess likely stems from the familiarity its players have with each other. Zagorski and his four defenders have started all 13 games this season, and three of the five players are seniors. The unit has had plenty of time to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

But there is a chink in Cornell’s armor — the team has a 2-3-1 record on the road, compared to 6-1-0 mark at home. In six games on the road, the Big Red has given up five goals, while it has only surrendered a single goal in seven games at home.

Luckily for Bruno, the game will be played at Stevenson Field, where the Bears have scored seven of their 11 goals this season. Bruno has found the back of the net in three straight games, a streak the team would like to keep alive against Cornell.

“We can score against Cornell because we have to,” Zingas said. “The bottom line is, we have to win, so we have no other option than to score and stay alive. Everyone on the team knows that; everyone has the right mentality. We’ll be well prepared to break down Cornell’s defense.”

In recent weeks, Quinn English ’18 has emerged as a partner to co-captain Ben Maurey ’15.5 at striker. The first-year forward has yet to pick up a goal, but he has proven to be one of Bruno’s most dynamic players. English regularly beats defenders on the wing in one-on-one situations, and he has turned throw-ins into a weapon for the Bears with his monstrous heave.

While Zingas and English will battle with elite talent in Cornell’s half of the field, Mitch Kupstas ’14.5 and the Bears’ back four will face a different team when the Big Red looks to attack. As far as scoring goals goes, Cornell is a middle-of-the-pack offense. The team ranks between fifth and seventh in shots, points, goals and assists in the Ivy League this season.

Senior Conor Goepel, an attacking midfielder, stands out as the Big Red’s only offensive threat. Goepel has six goals and three assists, but surprisingly comes off the bench for Cornell. He started three of the first four games this season, but has since been used as a sparkplug to get the Cornell offense going.

The Big Red’s second and third leading goal scorers tallied all of their stats in a 1-0 win over Hartwick College (2-8-4, 1-1-1 Sun Belt) and a 5-0 blowout of SUNY Buffalo (4-8-2, 0-0-2 MAC) before the Ivy season even started. Because Goepel comes off the bench, Cornell will not have an offensive presence on the field for at least the first 20 minutes of the game.

The stellar Bruno defense should be able to handle a mediocre Big Red attack. Kupstas ranks just behind Zagorski in save percentage, goals against average and shutouts in the Ivy League. After the Bears kept Harvard’s top-flight offense off the scoreboard for nearly 100 minutes last weekend, they should have no issue doing the same to Cornell’s lackluster unit.

Zingas called the game against the Big Red and the rest of the games this season “must wins.” If the team still has any hopes of taking the Ivy League crown, it must pick up the full three points this weekend.

“We’re not comfortable with where we are in the standings,” Zingas said. “Right now, there’s a huge sense of urgency. Every game is a playoff game from here on out.”

The Family Weekend crowd will cheer on the Bears at 3:30 p.m. Saturday as the team searches for its second conference victory of the season.


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