Tiger Men's Soccer Edged by Loyola in Opener; Early-Season Rust Exposed in Frustrating Loss
By Bill Alden
Jim Barlow realizes that being limited to a short preseason on an annual basis typically puts his Princeton University men's soccer team behind the eight-ball in early-season play.
The year, the Tigers had just nine days to try to get up to speed before facing Loyola last Friday in the season opener for both teams. As the teams battled on a humid night at Lourie-Love Field, Princeton's rust was exposed early on.
Unable to get a shot for the first 30 minutes of the contest, the Tigers fell behind 1-0 when a defensive lapse allowed Loyola's Vinnie Piscopo to fire the ball into the upper corner of the net.
Showing a battling spirit, the Tigers equalized as Adrian Melville headed in a delivery from Darren Spicer with 10:55 remaining in regulation.
But Princeton, which had several players struggle with leg cramps in the waning moments of the contest, couldn't hold off the Greyhounds as Loyola notched the game-winning goal with less than eight minutes left.
Princeton head coach Barlow didn't mince words in the wake of the disappointing 2-1 setback. "Not great," said Barlow, when asked to assess his team's opening night performance. "We looked like a team that hasn't been together for too long. We had a tough time finding our rhythm in the first half. I don't think we got it going until about 30 minutes in. Their goals came during a stretch when we were going well."
Barlow acknowledged that his team's lack of game fitness showed down the stretch of the game. "The second half shows we don't have our legs for 90 minutes," lamented Barlow, a former Princeton soccer star who is in his 10th year coaching his alma mater.
"We got stretched out a little bit but we still battled back. We got a goal but we let down for a minute afterward. We talk all the time about how goals follow goals. We needed to get through that five minute stretch."
The Tigers' lack of a finishing touch also frustrated Barlow."I thought the ball moved well at times but we didn't get enough chances out of it," said Barlow, whose club outshot Loyola 11-8 and earned nine corner kicks to the three granted to the Greyhounds.
"We had a hard time as we got closer to the goal with the last pass and the last run. The timing was off; we were a little out of sync."
While the result was disappointing, Barlow was happy to see Melville find the back of the net. "Melville is an opportunistic player," said Barlow of his senior forward from Randolph, Mass. who scored six goals last season.
"He was struggling in the first half with his feet. Adrian was having a hard time connecting but he's so opportunistic around goal; he did well at the end of that ball."
Princeton also got some good work from junior midfielder Zach Schwarz and sophomore forward Kyle McHugh, who returned to the team after taking a year off from school.
"When we put Zach in, we had a lot more possession," said Barlow. "He did a good job when he came on. It's great to have Kyle back. He's a handful for teams to deal with; he's so busy up front. He's got good feet; I think he's going to be a real good player."
If Princeton is to be a good team in the Ivy League, it's going to have to tighten up things.
"I think we have to have to be able to keep our shape for 90 minutes and not get stretched out," asserted Barlow, whose club will be back in action on September 9 when it plays at American University.
"I think we gave away two bad goals tonight. They were well-taken goals, both came on good shots. But they weren't as the result of a build-up or us being on our heels for a long time. If we're going to have a chance in the league we can't give away goals like that. We have to work on the little plays and take care of details."
With one game under its belt, Princeton should be a step closer to finding the rhythm it will need later in the fall.