Midfielder Pinto Comes Up Huge In Ivy Debut, Starring as PU Men’s Soccer Tops Dartmouth in OT
MEMORABLE DEBUT: Princeton University men’s soccer player Malik Pinto controls the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, sophomore midfielder Pinto made a sensational Ivy League debut, tallying two goals, including the game-winner, as Princeton edged Dartmouth 3-2 in overtime in the Ivy opener for both teams. The Tigers, now 4-4 overall and 1-0 Ivy, play at Temple on October 6 and at Brown on October 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
In recent years, the Princeton University men’s soccer team has struggled in its rivalry with Dartmouth.
Coming into the clash last Saturday against the Big Green, the Ivy League opener for both teams, Princeton was mired in a six-game winless skid in the series.
Even though Dartmouth entered the game with a 0-6 record, Princeton head coach Jim Barlow knew that his team was in for a battle.
“We have really struggled against Dartmouth over the last several seasons,” said Barlow.
“It was a little different because they struggled to get results early. It was misleading because they had played all six of their games away and they had played four teams in the top 25.”
Princeton came out firing early against the Big Green, jumping out to a 1-0 lead on a goal by Walker Gillespie 9:32 into the contest. The Tigers doubled the lead early in the second half on a goal by sophomore midfielder Malik Pinto.
But Dartmouth rallied, responding with two unanswered goals to force overtime.
“They were very good, especially late in the second half and in the overtime,” said Barlow.
“Dartmouth, to their credit, picked it up a notch. They started playing a lot of balls forward and they forced us to change our shape a little bit.”
Heading into OT, the Princeton players were unfazed by the Big Green comeback.
“When we started the overtime, I didn’t see any fear in our guys,” said Barlow.
“They were so confident that they could still win the game. They had already put the two bad mistakes behind them and they said we are winning this game. I think past teams would have shown more fear or ‘oh boy here we go’ and these guys didn’t show that at all. They were a very confident group going into the overtime.”
That confidence proved justified as Pinto culminated a sensational Ivy debut by notching the winning goal early in the second overtime as Princeton prevailed 3-2.
“He had a great game, not just with the goals, but he covered so much ground defensively,” asserted Barlow of Pinto, who was later named the Ivy Player and Rookie of the Week.
“He broke up so many plays. It was dominant performance from him in the midfield offensively and defensively.
Even though Pinto hadn’t scored a goal this season coming into Saturday, Barlow had seen flashes of brilliance from the 5’11, 155-pound native of Durham, N.C.
“He has had stretches of games that have been really solid, he has had moments that have been pretty special,” said Barlow.
“I think from start to finish against Dartmouth, he was really locked in all game. He even said get me one more chance and I am going to score. We got him one more chance in the overtime and he scored.”
Pulling out the win against its nemesis was a special moment for the Tigers.
“It is awesome for our team confidence to know we can face some adversity and still find a way on the road in a really tough environment to get a result,” said Barlow. “We are going to need to do that again for sure.”
While the result was heartening, Barlow knows it doesn’t guarantee anything.
“I say it to the guys all of the time, it is like we have seven Ivy League championships,” said Barlow.
“We won the first one, that makes the next one even more important. It is just the nature of our league, everyone can beat everyone. The games are so close. If we had lost to Dartmouth, we would have had to put it behind us right away and go on to the next one at Brown and have that same mentality.”
Barlow saw a winning mentality from senior Kevin O’Toole and junior Daniel Diaz Bonilla, who each had two assists against Dartmouth.
“A lot of our attack goes through those two guys; when they are on and making plays in the attack, we are creating a lot of chances,” said Barlow.
“They were both involved in several of the goals. Kevin made a great play on the winning goal to get by the defender in the midfield to carry the ball to the exact right moment where he needed to release it to Malik. Kevin and Daniel have been important guys; we are hopeful that they can continue to get goals themselves and chances because they are a lot of our attack.”
Senior goalie Jack Roberts showed some resilience, making a great save in the second overtime after miscues on the Big Green goals.
“The two goals that we gave up were very uncharacteristic mistakes,” said Barlow.
“But to Jack’s credit, we lose the game if he doesn’t make the best save he has made all year in the second overtime. Right before we scored the winning goal, they had a one-on-one breakaway. It was just the forward and Jack and he came off his line and made an incredible save and we win the game 20 seconds later.”
With Princeton moving to 4-4 in the wake of the win over Dartmouth, Barlow acknowledged that it has been an up-and- down campaign.
“It has been a roller-coaster so far; when we are good, we are very good,” said Barlow.
“In some stretches we haven’t rewarded ourselves by scoring. I think we are growing as a group. We are pretty organized defensively now. We have some really solid defenders who have had some great stretches. The back three of Lucas Gen, Alex Charles, and Issa Mudashiru were really great against Dartmouth. Charles is so fast and breaks up so many plays. I think we put good plays together going forward. Now it is just can we put them together in the right moments and can we take care of plays in both boxes that decide games.”
Barlow will be looking for his squad to produce in the big moments as it plays at Temple on October 6 and then resumes Ivy action with a game at Brown on October 9.
“Our guys are confident but we know it is just such a tough league,” said Barlow.
“In every Ivy game, it is throw caution to the win and just go after it. You know it is going to be an unbelievably high paced, competitive, physical battle. We have got to be able to deal with that and then on top of it, try to get some of our special stuff going.”