Loud singing and celebratory chants rang out from the men’s soccer dressing room following its game against Tufts on Saturday. The chants of “2-1! 2-1! 2-1!” reminded the Jumbo homecoming crowd that this Williams team was still undefeated, still the #1 Division III team in the country.
An energized Tufts side threatened the team’s elite status in the early stages of the match. For the first time this season the Ephs were challenged to come back from down a goal. Down 1-0 at halftime, the team responded confidently to the challenge, providing two second-half goals to secure a 2-1 victory and prompt its loud echoing revelry. The Ephs have improved to 12-0 overall, and 8-0 in NESCAC league fixtures. The team also improved its regular season unbeaten streak to an impressive 36 matches.
The advantage went to the Tufts Jumbos in the first half. When they gained possession of the ball, Tufts’ skilled center midfielders worked to continually attack the Williams defense with penetrating dribbling runs and long lofted passes behind the defensive line. When the ball was dangerously sent behind the defense, the Tufts forwards either got to the ball before a Williams defender, or they relentlessly pressured the Williams defender who was deep in his own zone.
Tufts’ hard work paid off in the 29th minute of the first half. Freshman midfielder Brian Mikel received the ball from his defender near the half field line. Mikel turned to attack the Williams goal, sold a fake around a Williams midfielder and ran right at the Williams defense. Expecting Mikel to play a through pass to a darting forward, the Williams defensive line stepped up the field in unison to catch the Tufts players offside. Mikel held the ball at his feet, however, and continued to dribble to goal. He broke away from the rest of the field players and was sent on his way for a breakaway chance against Eph keeper Ryan Spicer ’01. Spicer left the goalmouth to challenge Mikel near the top of the box, but Mikel was up to the task, beating another Williams defender. He cut the ball around the outstretched arms of Spicer and casually slid the ball into the Ephs empty net, causing uproar from the amazed Tufts support.
The Ephs found themselves behind for the first time in over 1000 minutes of play this season. The goal energized the Tufts side and minutes later the Jumbos nearly made the score 2-0 when a header careened off the Eph crossbar. The score remained 1-0 at the end of the first half.
Williams came out in the second half with a new formation and a rejuvenated attitude. Coach Mike Russo responded to Tufts attacking style by implementing an extra midfielder to give the Ephs a man advantage in that area of the park. The shift from their traditional 4-3-3 formation to a new 3-4-3 formation provided immediate results.
In the 48th minute of the game, Williams held possession of the ball in its own defense. The ball was swung around the defense in search of an opening in midfield. When a Williams midfielder was spotted, the ball was quickly knocked forward and with a few short sharp passes found its way to the feet of captain Mike Cortese ’01 on the right wing. Cortese delivered a tremendous back post cross that flew over the heads of the entire Tufts defense. Sprinting alone towards the Jumbo goal, crafty midfielder Josef Powell ’02 cleanly slammed a header into the back of the net from eight yards out, tying the game. Powell raced towards the sideline in celebration and struck a pose in front of the crazed Williams supporters.
Powell’s goal was the spark the Williams side needed as it began to set the tempo of play with smart, controlled passing and well-timed off-the-ball running. The Ephs continued to relentlessly attack the Tufts defense. Williams nearly took the lead but the post kept a strike by Alex Blake ’03 out of the goal.
In the 70th minute the Ephs pressure broke Tufts back. Williams was awarded a free kick ten yards from the Tufts goal line, five yards from the sideline. Blake sent a brilliantly driven bending cross towards the far post of the penalty box that was met and directed into the Tufts net by the right foot of Eph midfielder Walker Waugh ’02. Waugh had snuck between the crowd of Tufts defenders to poke the ball into the goal and give the Ephs the advantage, 2-1.
During the last 20 minutes of the match the Ephs held off the frantic Tufts attack, which narrowly missed the target at least twice. But the comeback was complete and the perfect season was preserved. The Ephs’ next game is today at home against MCLA.