Men’s soccer holds on to early lead, beats Amherst

Alex Johnson ’11 wins a headball over a Jeffs’ defender on Oct. 3.
Alex Johnson ’11 wins a headball over a Jeffs’ defender on Oct. 3.

Men’s soccer (6-0-1, 3-0-1 in the NESCAC) continued its unbeaten streak on Saturday with a win over Little Three rival Amherst (4-2-0, 2-2-0) away at Hitchcock Field. Continuing a recent trend, the Ephs produced their goals early and then let the opposing team sneak in only a single goal at the end of the match.

The play was fairly balanced between the rival squads, as the Ephs had eight shots on goal in each half to the Jeffs’ six. Interestingly, the Ephs’ typically potent corner kicks were unsuccessful on the day, as all seven opportunities were cleared away by the Jeffs’ backs. Throughout the match the intense rivalry often instigated heavy contact and fouls which played a pivotal role in terms of goal scoring opportunities and the overall intensity of the game.

With the crowd of 300 spectators braving the rainy weather, both teams came out wanting to find the goal to and gain an early lead. The first 20 minutes of the game yielded a flurry of scoring opportunities for the Ephs, but the Jeffs’ defense staved off the attacks.

In response to the early Williams pressure, Amherst responded when junior Ian Rothkopf streaked down the field and crossed the ball to Robert Gooden, whose shot missed wide. This attempt was the best scoring chance the Jeffs could put together in the first half.

With 12 minutes remaining in the first half, Gaston Kelly ’11, who has had six assists in the past six matches but no goals, finally netted his second goal of the season with an astounding individual effort. Twenty-five yards from the goal, Kelly burned an Amherst defender and drilled a skipping shot to the lower left corner past keeper Lennard Kovacs (six saves) on his near post. The Ephs soon entered the break, thrilled with their lead and looking for more.

“The guys played very well in the first half,” commented Head Coach Mike Russo. “[We] controlled the rhythm of play and had a few more chances. After Gaston Kelly scored his second goal [of the season], the game evened out and not many more scoring chances were created.”

After halftime, the Jeffs attacked with renewed vigor, pinning the Ephs in their own end with constant pressure down the flanks. However, Williams’ sturdy defense, controlled by Joe Vella ’11 and captain Conor Smith ’10, again held strong.  “The first 17 minutes of the second half, [Amherst] really had us on our heels,” said Russo.

After the barrage of early pressure by the Jeffs’ offense, the Ephs responded with a goal in the 62nd minute. Pierre Meloty-Kapella ’10 received a ball and streaked down the right, duping a duo of fullbacks and dispatching the ball to Charlie Romero ’11. Romero then flicked the ball past Kovacs to the left side panel to give Williams a 2-0 lead.

With a little under 12 minutes left to play, the chippy and foul oriented play of the match took a toll on the Ephs. Amherst’s Chris Linsmayer drew a foul in the box from an Eph defender and capitalized on the penalty shot, beating Williams keeper Andrew Graham ’10 (three saves) and cutting Williams’ lead in half.

At the end of the match, the Ephs’ defense once again held up against an offensive push by the Jeffs for the 2-1 win. “The last 15 minutes or so of the game, Amherst pushed up a lot of their guys which resulted in the penalty kick,” said Russo. “However, the back four did a great job and Andrew Graham was steady in goal.”

With an all around solid effort by the team, the Ephs earned the hard fought victory against the Jeffs. “It was a fantastic day – I must say they had our number the past two years and they hadn’t had much success prior to that – so beating them on their home field was a delight,” said Russo. “The midfielders Nick Pugliese ’12 and Alex Johnson ’11 worked incredibly hard, and attackers Charlie Romero and Pierre Meloty-Kapella were incredibly dangerous, so it was a real team effort.”

The Ephs are not getting ahead of themselves, however. “We have a tough stretch of 4 or 5 games in about a week, so although it was a good win, the team is refocusing so that we can continue getting good results,” said Smith.

No. 7 ranked Williams will look to maintain its unbeaten streak with both in and out of conference matches this week. Today the men travel to Castleton State to face off with the Spartans in an out of conference match followed by weekend matches against NESCAC rivals Bates on Saturday and Trinity on Sunday. Both games have 1 p.m. kick-off times at Cole Field.