Hosting nationally ranked Georgetown last Friday evening, the Princeton University men’s soccer team seemed overmatched in the early going.
The Tigers were outshot 10-4 by the No. 12 Hoyas and trailed 1-0 at intermission.
“We had a hard time in the first half,” said Princeton head coach Jim Barlow. “We played a 4-4-2 in the first half and they stretched us out pretty well. I didn’t think that we got our back line up high enough and there was too much room for them to play in the midfield.”
Looking to stem the tide, Barlow made a key adjustment after halftime. “In the second half we went with a 4-3-3 with Thomas Sanner all the way up, Julian Griggs and Cameron Porter out wide, and we put three guys in the middle,” said Barlow.
“It definitely made it harder for them to keep possession in the middle. I thought Pat O’Neil, Matt Sanner, and Myles McGinley did a good job of plugging holes and I thought we took control of the game.”
The Tigers outshot Georgetown 13-4 over the last 45 minutes of the game but were unable to find the back of the net as they fell 1-0.
Still, Barlow drew positives from the team’s second half performance. “This was a big step forward for our team,” said Barlow.
“I thought we got on the same page with how we were going to try to play defense and it went much better. I think we had a few chances that we should have put away. We looked like a soccer team in the second half.”
Two days later, the Tigers built on that second half effort as they edged Villanova 1-0 on a goal by Thomas Sanner.
Freshman forward Sanner has made an immediate impact for the Tigers. “Thomas is a good target up there,” said Barlow, whose team improved to 2-3 with the win on Sunday.
“He has got good feet. He can look to get behind the defense but he can also look to make passes.”
Senior co-captain Mark Linnville helped keep the Princeton defense tight in the Georgetown game. “He is steady back there,” said Barlow of Linnville, a three-time first-team All- Ivy League performer.
“He is a leader; he keeps the back line together. I think he was a little cautious in the first half and kept the line too deep. In the second half, he pushed the line up higher. They didn’t get behind us and I think we now have a little more confidence that we can put our line up higher and play more in their end.”
In Barlow’s view, having started the season by playing five teams from the Big East (Seton Hall, St. John’s and Rutgers in addition to Georgetown and Villanova) should give the Tigers confidence going forward.
“I am always a fan of playing against good teams and the Big East has a lot of good teams,” said Barlow, whose team hosts its Princeton Invitational next weekend, playing Rider on September 21 and Fairleigh Dickinson on September 23.
“When you only have 17 games to play in a year, you want to play good teams. I know they start earlier. I know they have had a lot more games than us but we can’t focus on that. Georgetown had played six games, a few scrimmages, and have been together a lot longer than us. In the first half, especially, they looked like they are further along but this is how you make progress and I thought we did make some progress.”