Saturday’s Middlebury-Williams matchup had all of the makings of a classic. Williams had a perfect regular season record on the line, while Middlebury saw a perfect opportunity to spoil Williams’ unblemished season for the third consecutive year.
Two seasons ago, Williams’ only regular season loss was a heartbreaking 1-0 overtime defeat on Cole Field to Middlebury. And last season, Williams’ only regular season blemish was a frustrating 1-1 draw in Vermont. But the biting winds that swept across Cole Field on Saturday blew away those bitter memories.
This Williams side (14-0-0, 9-0-0) remembered that they don’t disappoint, won’t disappoint, can’t disappoint themselves and their continuous hard work or their raucous clan of dedicated supporters. Middlebury (10-2-2, 6-2-1) could only watch as Williams finished the regular season in the same fashion they had played the rest of the season: perfect. The final score read 1-0, and Williams’ performance throughout the match made clear why they have been the number one team in NESCAC for the entire season and the number one team in the nation for over a month. The well-organized Eph defense was impenetrable, thanks in part to the return of standout center back Marc Williams ’02, who had missed time on the field the last few weeks due to an ankle injury.
The entire defense seemed more at ease and confident on the ball in Marcus’ return.
Middlebury mustered only one scoring opportunity, a weak shot that Eph goalkeeper Ryan Spicer ’01easily stopped. Going forward the Williams side looked as confident as usual, creating havoc for Middlebury defenders who struggled to keep up with the pace of the ball and the Williams players alike. With a strong wind at their back in the first half, the Ephs defensive line held possession of the ball as they swung it across the width of the field in search of holes in the Middlebury defense, while making the Middlebury forwards look like dogs endlessly chasing after their tails. The defenders targeted the Williams midfield or found the Eph frontrunners with long-driven balls into the attacking third of the field. As they are coached to do, the Williams wingers stayed wide against the touchline to receive passes, which opened large spaces in the Middlebury defense for other attackers to run into, or for the skilled Williams wingers to take on their defender one vs. one.
Super Greek Ted Giannacopoulos ’02and The Alex Blake continually went at the Middlebury defenders with equal parts quickness, deception and skillfulness with the ball at their feet â€“ but, despite the relentless attacking pressure, Williams could not find the net in the first half, narrowly missing on several occasions.
The second half began the same way Williams played the majority of the first half. Now with a strong wind blowing against their attack, the Ephs continued their relentless pursuit of the first goal of the contest.
The break came in the 56th minute of the match. Following a battle for the ball on the right flank of the Williams attack, right winger T. Michael Cortese gained possession, looked up at the Williams players gathering in the penalty box, and delivered a lofted cross into the mixer. A Middlebury defender misjudged the height of the cross and it sailed just over his head as he jumped. Blake does not misjudge much when in the penalty box, and he took advantage of the tiny amount of space he found himself with between the penalty spot and the six-yard box. With his first touch Blake brought the ball down from his thigh to a step in front of his feet, as if he had taken all the air from the ball, causing it to die on ground in front of him. But the ball was still very alive and Blake’s second lightning quick touch pounded the ball into the back of the net.
The uproar of the Williams support was only outclassed by Blake himself, who skipped with arms outstretched (apparently in homage to teammate Walker Waugh ’02) towards the now crazed supporters, who overflowed onto the pitch in celebration. Following the goal the Williams side was less committed to continuous high-pressure attacks, but they continued to frustrate Middlebury’s attack with a cohesive wall of defense.
The day prior the Williams defense had trained under the coaching of Major League Soccer All-Star and Williams alum Dan Calichman.
Calichman’s methods of defense and words of advice were fully absorbed by the Williams defenders as they calmly thwarted any and all Middlebury movements towards the Williams goal. Usually a Middlebury attack ended in a poor cross going over the endline as a result of Williams high pressure defending, or in Spicer easily gathering a failed through pass in behind the line of defenders. Williams plays host to the NESCAC tournament this Saturday and Sunday, admission will be $3 for adults, $1 for students with ID.