The men’s soccer team needs just three games to go in its favor in order to win the Ivy League. Trailing Dartmouth by five points in the standings, the Bears will need to win the remainder of their two-game schedule and have the Big Green lose its next game.
The good news is that the second-place Bears will play Dartmouth next weekend in a season finale that could decide which team heads to the NCAA tournament. The bad news is that if the Big Green beats Cornell this weekend, it will lock up its fourth conference crown in the last eight years.
But while the Bears will anxiously monitor the game in Hanover, a Big Red win or tie will do nothing for Bruno if it does not take care of business against Yale at home this weekend.
Fortunately for the Bears, the Bulldogs have lost 13 of their 15 games this season and have struggled to generate and prevent goals. Yale’s lone win came against Quinnipiac, a team that has also won just one game this year.
On paper, Bruno should be able to handle the Bulldogs with ease. Yale has given up a whopping 32 goals this season — nine more than the next-most porous Ivy defense — and netted just 12 goals, tied for the second-worst mark in the conference.
The Bears, on the other hand, have a positive goal differential both in conference and overall, and the offense has been firing on all cylinders. Bruno has been shut out just twice this season, compared to last year’s mark of five.
The Bears’ offensive improvement “has a lot to do with our change in formation and our coaches’ emphasis on attacking players one-on-one,” said Tariq Akeel ’16. “Other than that, it’s just been a team commitment and focus to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Some of the usual suspects have come through with big goals when the Bears needed them. Akeel has converted both of his penalty kick attempts, one of which gave Bruno a 2-1 win over Penn last weekend. Jack Gorab ’16 has two goals and three assists on the season, as he has once again assumed his role as Bruno’s primary free-kick specialist.
The offense has also gotten a lift from the return of Nate Pomeroy ’17, who was sidelined for nearly half of last year with injuries and never seemed to be at full strength. Pomeroy has picked up two goals and an assist in his new role on the right wing this year.
But much of the Bears’ offensive success can be attributed to key first-year additions. Jack Hagstrom ’19, three-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week, has started all but one game this year on the back line and is Bruno’s lead goalscorer with five. Hagstrom’s aerial abilities have caused nightmares for opposing defenses guarding Bruno set-pieces, as the first-year has headed home a number of crosses and long-balls.
Matthew Chow ’19 has also given the team a spark on the wing. The first-year leads the Bears in shots and has the green light to fire from any distance. He can also take corners and managed to score a rare Olympic goal that gave Bruno a 1-0 win over Cornell two weeks ago.
Hagstrom, Chow and the veterans on the team should have success against a Bulldog defense that has yet to keep an opponent out of the back of its net for a full 90 minutes this season.
On defense, the Bears boast the third-stingiest goals-against mark in the conference at just under one per game. Teo Norhagen ’19 took over as the starter three games ago and has stood resolute in net since, allowing just one goal and notching two shutouts.
With Hagstrom and Gabe Welp ’18 holding down the middle of the defense, co-captain Tim Whalen ’16 sitting in front of them at a center defensive midfield position and a rotation of speedy right and left backs protecting the flanks, Bruno should be able to keep the lackluster Bulldog offense off the scoreboard.
If the Bears pick up a win over Yale, a Dartmouth draw or loss would set up an epic showdown for the Ivy League title Nov. 14 at Stevenson Field.
“Obviously we want to be in control of our own destiny, but crazy things can happen in the Ivy League,” Whalen said. “Not getting a win at Yale would be disappointing for us, regardless of what happens elsewhere in the Ivy League.”