Princeton Men's Soccer Confident It Can Tip Ivy Balance of Power
By Bill Alden
In the highly competitive world of Ivy League men's soccer where the teams are so closely matched, there is little margin for error.
The Princeton University squad is Exhibit A of the razor thin difference between the league's teams. In 2001, the Tigers gave up two goals in league play, posting a 5-1-1 and sharing the Ivy crown with Brown.
Last fall, Princeton gave up only four goals in Ivy matches but skidded to a 2-3-2 league mark (4-8-5 overall) and a fifth place finish.
As Princeton looks forward to starting the regular season this week by playing Villanova in Penn's Kappa Classic on September 12, head coach Jim Barlow believes his team is ready to return to the top of the topsy-turvy league.
"In the Ivy League, every game is a dogfight, every team has a chance to win," said Barlow, who is in his eighth year guiding the Tigers and has posted a 56-47-18 career mark.
"There just isn't that much difference between first and eighth. We have as good a chance as anyone. We've made steps forward from last year, both individually and over all as a group."
For the Tigers, things start, as usual, with a stingy defense. "Defensively, we have a good solid foundation," added Barlow. "The back line is pretty solid."
Princeton's defensive group will be headed up by senior captain Jeff Hare, the team's most decorated player and its acknowledged leader. Hare, a feisty 5'11, 170-pound center back from Richmond, is a three-year starter who was a unanimous first-team All-Ivy choice last fall and is in his second year as a team captain.
Other key contributors along the back should include Hare's younger brother, Doug, a junior, sophomores Marc Dubois and Ben Young, and freshman Rachman Blake.
The Tigers' defense did lose record-breaking goalie Jason White, its anchor for the last two campaigns, but Barlow has not one but three potential replacements vying for the spot. The battle is being waged between White's younger bother, Erik, a junior, senior Jason Bell and sophomore Bobby Guelich.
The trio looked solid in the preseason as the team surrendered seven goals in going 2-2-2 in four games in an August trip to Italy and two matches at the Mercer Cup on Labor Day.
Barlow has high hopes for his versatile group of midfielders. "The midfield looks pretty strong, we have talent and depth," said Barlow, a three-time first-team All Ivy midfielder himself for the Tigers from 1988-90. "We expect Marty Shaw and Gianfranco Tripicchio to keep the ball moving in the midfield. Alex Reison and Ryan Rich give us speed. Teddy van Beuren is an excellent defensive midfielder."
It is up front where Barlow has the most questions as Princeton scored three goals in league play last year compared to the 13 the squad notched in its 2001 title campaign.
"The big challenge will be figuring where the goals are coming from," acknowledged Barlow. "We just didn't score enough goals last year. We're going to try some different things in terms of formations and lineups."
One facet of the attack that will remain the same is the presence of sophomore Darren Spicer, who established himself as a clutch player last fall, scoring two game-winning goals in the final seconds against LaSalle and American.
"Darren had a great trip in Italy," said Barlow. "He and Jeff Hare were on the field for every minute of every game, that was tough in the 100 degree heat we faced."
The Tigers may get some scoring punch from another freshman this season as Kyle McHugh from Baldwin, Md. appears poised to make an immediate impact. Giving a glimpse of his potential, McHugh scored in his first day in a Tiger uniform as he tallied in the Tigers' 1-1 draw with Mercer County Community College in the Mercer Cup.
In Barlow's view, rebounding from last year's disappointments will come down to daily attention to detail. "You try to make every day competitive," said Barlow, sounding like his mentor Bob Bradley, the former Tiger head coach and current NY-NJ MetroStars head man. "We're going to keep all of our focus on what's just ahead of us."
The Tigers will need that kind of focus if they are to fight their way back to the top of the Ivy heap.