October 24, 2018

Breaking the Ice with Paniagua’s Early Goal, PU Men’s Soccer Tops Harvard, Stays Atop Ivies

FINISHING TOUCH: Princeton University men’s soccer player Gaby Paniagua, right, gets ready to boot the ball against Harvard last Saturday. Sophomore midfielder Paniagua tallied the first goal of the contest to help Princeton post a 3-0 win over the Crimson and remain atop the Ivy League standings. The Tigers, now 8-4-2 overall and 3-0-1 Ivy, play at Cornell (10-3 overall, 3-1 Ivy) on October 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Gaby Paniagua saw a chance to give the Princeton University men’s soccer team a lead over Harvard last Saturday, and he cashed in.

“I was making a near post run and I saw Kevin [O’Toole] flick it with the outside of his foot,” said sophomore midfielder Paniagua.

“I saw the first defender miss and I was anticipating the ball, so when it landed on my foot and I knew I had to put it in near post.”

Paniagua’s tally 17 minutes into the contest set the tone as Princeton went on to a 3-0 win, staying atop the Ivy League, moving to 8-4-2 overall and 3-0-1 Ivy and extending its unbeaten streak to six games.

“In these Ivy games, it is always super important to get the first goal because a lot of the times that is the decider,” said Paniagua. “With a team like ours, I think there is always a chance to put in two or three goals.”

Paniagua’s classmate and friend O’Toole put in a goal late in the first half and then added another in the first five minutes of the second half to help Princeton close the deal.

“Kevin is my roommate, so I spend a lot of time with him,” said Paniagua of O’Toole, who was named the Ivy League Player of the Week.

“We missed him at the beginning of the season when he had an injury but ever since he has been back, his presence has been noticeable. He really makes a difference out there. I feel really comfortable playing off him.”

Paniagua has developed a comfort level on the field as a sophomore, having tallied three goals and an assist so far this fall.

“As a freshman, it is hard to get to get that confidence because you are just looking to get some playing time,” said Paniagua, a 5’11, 175-pound native of Miami, Fla.

“I got adjusted to the Ivy League pretty quickly last year. This year, the goal is not only to win an Ivy championship, but to put away four, five goals this season and be one of the leaders on the team.”

Showing that leadership, Paniagua tallied a key second half goal in a pivotal 2-0 win over Brown on October 6.

“We hadn’t beaten Brown in four years,” said Paniagua. “After that win, everyone got in their minds, ‘oh, we knew were good enough to win the league, but now it is the real deal.’ We are here to win it.”

Princeton head coach Jim Barlow credited Paniagua’s good anticipation with leading to the first goal against Harvard.

“The first goal was opportunistic on Gaby’s part to read it and get behind the line,” said Barlow. “He arranged his feet in a good way and that made a big difference.”

Barlow liked the way Princeton seized opportunity in pulling away from the Crimson.

“We were up 2-0 against Columbia at halftime last week; we let them get back in the game and they scored,” said Barlow, reflecting on his team’s 2-1 win over the Lions on October 13. “We talked at halftime about getting the third goal, pressing and not sitting back and our guys did that.”

Blessed with depth this fall, Barlow was able to get a lot of guys in the game.

“We were trying to make a lot of changes; everyone who came in did a pretty good job,” said Barlow.

With Princeton having gone 4-0-2 in its last six games, Barlow believes his squad is headed in the right direction.

“We have always though that this group had a ton of potential,” said Barlow.

“We just needed some time to figure out how we were going to play and have an identity. Fortunately, we got some  close wins which helped with our confidence.”

The Tigers are girding for another close game as they head to Cornell (10-3 overall, 3-1 Ivy) for a first-place showdown this Saturday.

“Now we have the challenge of dealing with midterm week to get ready for Cornell,” said Barlow. “That is a big challenge and hopefully our guys are ready for it.”

Paniagua, for his part, believes the Tigers are ready for a title drive. “We have a good group of guys here to hopefully make a run for the championship,” said Paniagua.

“Cornell just has one loss, they are right behind us. If we can come out hard and get a result there, I think there is nothing stopping us from winning an Ivy League championship.”