As the Princeton University men’s soccer team prepared for a pivotal Ivy League contest at Cornell, the Tigers faced a series of challenges.
In addition to dealing with the stress of midterm week, Princeton was ailing as it brought a 2-0-2 Ivy record into its clash with a Big Red team that was 3-1 in league action.
“It wasn’t easy, not only with midterms but the guys’ bodies seemed to be hitting a wall,” said Princeton head coach Jim Barlow.
“It sounded like an infirmary on the trip up and back from Cornell with the guys coughing. Matt Sanner was not able to train after Tuesday because of a toe injury. Joe Saitta was sick and in and out of training. Chris Benedict tweaked his back.”
Shaking off fatigue, illness, and injury, the Tigers battled Cornell tooth and nail. The team were deadlocked in a scoreless tie at halftime and Princeton outshot the Big Red 8-4 in the second half. But Daniel Haber found the back of the net for Cornell early in the second half for the only score of the contest as the Tigers fell 1-0.
“We played well, the first half was even and we had more shots than they did in the second half,” said Barlow.
“They have a really dangerous forward and he got two or three chances and was able to score one. He made the most of his opportunities.”
Princeton, on the other hand, didn’t cash in on its opportunities. “We had a lot of the play in the second half,” said Barlow, whose team is 6-6-2 overall and now trails Brown (12-1-2 overall, 4-0-1 Ivy), Cornell (13-1 overall, 4-1 Ivy) and Dartmouth (8-6 overall, 4-1 Ivy) in the Ivy title race with two league games remaining.
“We had enough chances to score. We just haven’t been sharp in the final third; going back to Adelphi (a 1-0 loss on October 17) and even Harvard (a 2-1 overtime win on October 20) where we pulled the game out on a goal off a long throw.”
The team’s lack of offensive punch has been particularly disappointing given how well Princeton has played defensively.
“The guys on the back line have been terrific,” said Barlow, whose team has a goals against average of 1.15 and had yielded just four goals in its five league contests.
“Mark Linnville is the leader. Billy McGuinness has been so good all year. Seth MacMillan has been solid in goal; Saitta and Benedict are also solid. Last year, we scored a lot of goals but gave up too many. We wanted to get the back line really secure and we have done that but we are not making that last play in front of the goal.”
With Princeton’s Ivy title hopes hanging by a thread, Barlow is looking for his team to make some big plays as it hosts Penn (2-12 overall, 0-5 Ivy) on November 3 before playing at Yale (4-7-4 overall, 1-2-2 Ivy) on November 10 in the regular season finale.
“We just have to focus on winning our own games,” said Barlow, noting that the Tigers needs to win both of their remaining games and get help in several other league matchups to win the title.
“We are frustrated. We knew that Saturday could be the game that decided the title and we didn’t get it done.”