Men’s soccer drops first regular season contest since 1998

Men’s soccer (13-1-0) had its hopes of a perfect season dashed against Middlebury (7-5-2) in a crushing, 1-0 overtime defeat. Williams, the number one seed and host of this weekend’s NESCAC tournament semifinal and final rounds, also had its 51-game unbeaten skein snapped; during the streak, which began against Trinity on Oct. 3, 1998, the Ephs went 50-0-1.

The Ephmen will look to rebound this weekend in the NESCAC tournament. They will face Bowdoin at 11 a.m. on Saturday, and, if they move on, the winner of the Middlebury-Tufts match-up in the NESCAC finals on Sunday at noon. All games will be held at Cole Field and a $3 admission ($2 for students) will be charged.

Coincidentally, Middlebury was the last team to beat the Ephs before they went on their 51-game tear; the Panthers won that contest 3-1 in double overtime on Sept. 29, 1998.

“Our guys played very well, but it was just one of those games,” said head coach Mike Russo. “Middlebury played us very tight defensively, and, unfortunately, we were just never able to break through. Give a lot of credit to their goalkeeper [Brian Hamm] – he came up big a number of times. We kept hoping we’d be able to put them away but it just wasn’t meant to be.”

The lone goal was scored in the sixth minute of the first overtime period following 95 minutes of fiercely contested soccer.

John Rusten received the ball from Jason Griffiths and sent a shot past the Ephs goalkeeper, Robbie Kirsher ’03, to give the Panthers their 1-0 advantage. The goal was controversial, however, as the Ephs insisted Rusten was offside when he received the pass; nonetheless, the goal stood.

The Ephs were unable to even the score in the remaining minutes of the overtime period, and the loss was sealed.

“I think we can pick up the pieces, I certainly hope we can,” Russo said. “We just need to find ways to score goals. It’s true that we haven’t had much trouble scoring this season, but that can be a little deceiving because defenses tend to get stronger and more compact as the season wears on.

“We need to exert a little more composure in the attacking third of the field,” he continued. “I find we have too many mis-hit crosses or mis-struck attempts on our shots.”

Indeed, the Ephs did struggle offensively. On the day, the Ephs out-shot the Panthers 22-7, but of those 22 shots, only five were on net.

Concerning the end of his team’s 51-game unbeaten streak, Russo was conciliatory: “In one sense, I’m relieved; it had to end sometime.”

The loss was vaguely reminiscent of last year’s thrilling fourth-overtime loss to Middlebury that deprived the Ephs of last year’s NESCAC tournament title. The Ephs can only hope that the aftermath of this year’s defeat will similarly resemble what happened last year; following the bitter 1-0 defeat last season, the Ephs went on to beat the Panthers 1-0 in the NCAA New England Tournament championship game.

“I don’t think the loss affects our confidence level in any way,” said Alex Blake ’03. “We played very, very well; it was probably our best game as a team that we’ve had all season. We’d rather have the loss now than later, and we look forward to facing Middlebury again in the NESCAC tournament.”

Josef Powell ’02 agreed with Blake’s assessment: “I don’t think the loss affects our mindset going in to the tournament in a negative way. We’re more motivated now than ever before. It lets us know that this weekend won’t just be a walk in the park and that we need to come out with a lot of intensity. We don’t feel pressured, we just know that we have to get the job done, and we feel ready.”

Earlier in the week, men’s soccer posted a 3-1 victory over the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) (6-9-2). Ted Giannacopoulos ’02 scored all three of the Ephs’ goals as the Ephmen erased an early 1-0 deficit.

The Mohawks drew first blood in only the sixth minute of play when Joe Macksey received the ball from Nick Chase and converted on a shot from within the 6-yard box that Kirsher could not hinder.

Giannacopoulos took matters into his own hands after the early lapse however, scoring an unassisted goal in the 24th minute to even the game at one apiece.

The Ephs would take the lead four minutes later when Walker Waugh ’02 found Giannacopoulos with a pass in the 18-yard box. Giannacopoulos was able to control the pass and send a shot past Mohawk goalie Bryan Chadwick.

Giannacopoulos would complete the hat trick in the 48th minute of play with his second unassisted goal; the Ephmen would be held scoreless after this point, even though they managed to outshoot the Mohawks 34-4. Nonetheless, the Ephs would hang on to their two-goal advantage to secure their 13th victory of the season in as many games.

Blake, who had scored a goal in each of the Ephs’ previous 13 games this season, had his consecutive games with a goal scored streak snapped against MCLA. Blake had actually scored a goal in each of his last15 consecutive regular season contests – a streak he began in last year’s game against MCLA on Oct. 24.

Following the shutout-loss to Middlebury, Blake has now been held scoreless in two consecutive contests for the first time all season.