Men’s soccer rebounds after loss to Babson

Following a disappointing 2-0 loss to a weak Babson team in the squad’s season opener, men’s soccer (1-1, 1-0 in the NESCAC) rebounded nicely with a win in its home and conference opener on Saturday against Connecticut College (0-2, 0-1). The Ephs made a series of defensive-minded adjustments following their sobering mid-week defeat and were able to run circles around the Camels in what captain Bryan McCoy ’04 called a “must-win game” for the team.

To be sure, men’s soccer suffered from some of the same scoring woes that have troubled the now Alex Blake ’03-less Ephs in the first four games, preseason included, of the 2003 campaign. Blake, who holds most scoring records at Williams now plays Major League Soccer for the Colorado Rapids. McCoy is still adamant nonetheless that Saturday’s effort featured improvement in the Ephs’ game from all angles.

“Conn. College wasn’t a brilliant result but this was a must-win game and afterwards having played a pretty good second half I was content with where we stood,” McCoy said. “It was pretty exciting to see the way people picked it up and played like we know they’re able to.”

The Ephs were disappointed time and time again in their efforts to score throughout the first half, and the second looked to hold more of the same agony, as shot after shot sailed wide, high or comfortably into the mitts of Camel goalkeeper Jon Knights.

Indeed, Williams dominated the pace of play throughout the game, but was unable to put anything on the board until well into the second half, when Josh Bolton ’06 and Khari Stephenson ’04 pieced together a pair of goals that gave the Ephmen the victory.

“There was frustration in the first half,” Head Coach Mike Russo said. “I was concerned but not overly concerned [with the lack of early scoring], because we saw flashes of very good play here today and we certainly have the talent to score goals.”

The Ephs ultimately capitalized in the 76th minute of the game when Bolton sent a shot from six yards out into the upper left hand corner of the goal. The sophomore’s goal was set up through the combined efforts of the Olsen brothers – the elder Ryan Olsen ’04 and the younger Brett Olsen ’07.

Ryan Olsen collected the ball at midfield and sent a brilliant pass down the right flank, which his younger brother chased down in front of a Camel defenseman. The junior Olsen scrambled past the defender down to the touchline and centered the ball, which, after being redirected by Ryan Olsen, found its way to Bolton on the left side of the goal. Bolton sent the ball past Knights to give the Ephs their first goal of the season.

“Through that point I think the players were putting undue pressure on themselves,” Russo said. “We just told them to relax, that the chances will come. . . I think once we got the one goal, everyone just breathed a sigh of relief and I think now we’ll just open up and play I hope.”

“The first goal from Josh was our first goal of the season, so that was definitely a big relief,” Stephenson said. “It got things started, opened the floodgates so to speak.”

Once the gates were open, Stephenson took it upon himself to supply a little flood. With 10 seconds remaining on the clock, Stephenson received a pass from Matt Nolan ’07 and sent a booming shot into the upper right hand corner of the goal, much to the delight of the 100-plus fans in attendance.

“It was a bit frustrating at times in the early going because we were dominating the game,” Stephenson said. “We got a number of chances and we definitely should have had a few goals in the first half, but we managed to put stuff together in the second half and came out with two goals.”

Though the Ephs already had the game in their back pocket when Stephenson scored his goal, he indicated that every goal counts in terms of the message the team sends to the competition: “It definitely sends a different message to beat Conn. College 2-0 versus 1-0,” he said.

Nick Armington ’06 played all 90 minutes in goal and tallied his first shutout of the season. Russo tinkered with the defensive alignment in front of Armington following the disappointing loss to Babson earlier in the week.

“We had been playing a little more zonal, now we’re playing a little more man with more cover on the defense; that was the big change,” Russo said. “Also, we solidified the midfield by putting a couple more defensive kind of players out there; I think our midfield defending wasn’t great in the early part of the season so we felt we had to make some changes there.”

To wit, Saturday’s lineup featured a full-fledged stopper and sweeper tandem – manned by McCoy and Matt Aronson ’05, respectively – along with Ned Castle ’06 and Keith Jackson ’06 on the flanks, all of which was complemented by the defensive midfield presence of Andreas Boye ’04 and Dan MacGregor ’07.

Though must-win type games are commonly reserved for the latter end of the season, the pressure was definitely on the Ephs to come up with a victory after opening their season on a sour note with the loss to Babson. In the game, the Ephs put 20 shots on the board in the match in total, including 15 alone in the second half, but could not string anything together against the defensive-inclined Babson.

For their part, the Beavers only came up with five shots on the day, but managed to sneak two of them past Armington in net.

Scoring first for the Beavers was Shaun Dowell; Dowell’s goal came in the 26th minute of play courtesy of an assist from Nick Richio. Robert Livingston’s unassisted goal with a minute remaining in the first half marked the end of scoring on the day, and put the Ephs in the 2-0 hole from which they would not escape.

“I think that that game gave the following game a sense of urgency that it might not otherwise have had,” McCoy said. “Having said that I wouldn’t want to imply that any games were being taken lightly, but it really was a wake-up call when the first game of the season was a loss, and I say that regardless of whether we outshot them or whether we had the better end of the game – there were let-downs and breakdowns in that game and those are things that can’t happen.”

Next up for the Ephs is tomorrow’s game against Westfield State, a team Williams dominated with a 7-0 victory early last season. The opening whistle is set to sound at 4:15 p.m. down at Cole Field.