October 20, 2021

Senior O’Toole Rises to the Occasion with 2 Goals As PU Men’s Soccer Tops Columbia, Now 3-0 Ivy

RISING TO THE OCCASION: Princeton University men’s soccer player Kevin O’Toole goes after the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior star O’Toole scored two goals to help Princeton defeat Columbia 3-0. O’Toole, the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year in 2018, has three goals and three assists in three Ivy contests this fall. The Tigers, who improved to 6-5 overall and 3-0 Ivy with the win, return to league action when they play at Harvard (4-4-3 overall, 0-2-1 Ivy) on October 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Kevin O’Toole has demonstrated a knack for rising to the occasion for the Princeton University men’s soccer team in the heat of Ivy League competition.

The senior forward had tallied a goal and two assists in Princeton’s first two Ivy contests this season as the Tigers defeated Dartmouth 3-2 and Brown 3-1.

Last Saturday against visiting Columbia, O’Toole took things to a higher level, scoring two goals to help Princeton pull away to a 3-0 win over the Lions as it improved to 6-5 overall and 3-0 Ivy.

O’Toole and his teammates brought a sense of urgency into the clash with the Lions.

“We know every game is incredibly hard in the Ivy League, you can’t take any game for granted,” said O’Toole, a 5’10, 165-pound native of Montclair, and the Ivy Offensive Player of the Year in 2018.

“It is basically seven championship games, that is how we approach every game in the Ivy League.”

The Tigers came out playing hard, generating some early scoring opportunities.

“I think our possession was strong coming out of the gate, there is always a concerted effort to get a goal really early in the game,” said O’Toole.

“We always look to get one in the first 10 minutes and that was what we did; maybe it wasn’t inside the first 10, it was 15 or something like that.”

In getting that first goal at the 15:36 mark of the first half, O’Toole curled in a volley into the top corner of the net.

“It was a cut back from Ryan Clare; he was going to lay it back for me,” said O’Toole.

“I saw the keeper a bit off his line and I just tried to hit it as hard as I could far post and it was fortunate for it to go in.”

A desperate Columbia came out firing in the second half, fighting hard for possession and putting the Tigers on their heels.

“Their season depended on it; we knew the results from the first two games and that they were going to come out flying to save their season,” said O’Toole.

“We weathered the storm a bit. We were lucky to get one on the break in the second half.”

As storm clouds gathered over the Class of 1952 Stadium and the wind picked up, O’Toole tallied his second goal on an assist from Michael Osei Wusu.

“I saw Mike making a good run through so I just tried to get it through to him in space,” said O’Toole.

“I saw one center back and I tried to beat him to the spot. Mike put a great ball across to me.”

Playing some tight defense and getting a goal from Osei Wusu with 13:04 left in regulation, the Tigers were able to pull away from Columbia.

“It is tough in Ivy League games to get big leads, we know leads can be fragile,” said O’Connor.

“We were at Dartmouth with a two goal lead and they came back at 2-2. We knew we had to really lock in and be keen about defending in the waning stretches of the game.”

While O’Toole is keen to excel whenever he takes the pitch, he relishes Ivy competition.

“I try to put up some stats in every game but there is something special about the Ivy League games that brings out the best,” said O’Toole, who now has three goals and five assists this season to give him 11 goals and 14 assists over his Tiger career.

“A lot of the seniors took the year off for these moments. I did myself as well. This is our last shot to win it. That is why we play, that is why we are here.”

Princeton head coach Jim Barlow knew that the Lions would present some problems for his squad.

“It was a different kind of challenge, Columbia spreads you out, they are a possession team,” said Barlow.

“I think we are used to having the ball a little more than we had it against them. We know that if you take breaks defensively they are good at switching it from one side to the other. The early goal helps, Kevin took it well.”

Barlow credited his team with holding the fort defensively in the second half.

“They don’t want to go 0-2-1 to start the league, we knew they were going to come out flying,” said Barlow, noting that his back three of Stephen Duncan, Lucas Gen, and Issa
dashiru came up big in the win.

“It was a little shaky for a while but we weathered it. We did it without giving away any really good chances and then we created some of our own.”

It was not surprising for Barlow to see O’Toole convert his scoring chances.

“It has been a good couple of weeks for him,” said Barlow of O’Toole.

“We have been using him up front a little more now, giving him some freedom to go find the ball and he has been doing that really well.”

With Princeton returning to league action when it plays at Harvard (4-4-3 overall, 0-2-1 Ivy) on October 23, Barlow is confident that his squad will keep playing well in Ivy action.

“They are into it, they are focused, they believe,” said Barlow, whose team is currently atop the league standings, just ahead of Yale (5-4-3 overall, 2-0-1 Ivy).

“Every game is like an Ivy League championship and that is how they are approaching it. The winning helps because it just makes the next game that much more important and that much more urgency to get it right in training.”

O’Toole, for his part, believes that Princeton will maintain that sense of urgency.

“I think the recipe has been working, we have just got to keep drilling home that every game is a championship game,” said O’Toole. “That is how we are going to approach Harvard on Saturday.”