September 28, 2022

Tiger Women’s Soccer Falls 1-0 to Yale in Ivy Opener, Looking to Open New Stadium with a Bang this Saturday

BRINGING IT HOME: Princeton University women’s soccer Kamryn Loustau, right, goes after the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, Loustau and the Tigers had a tough night in Connecticut as they fell 1-0 at Yale in the Ivy League opener for both teams. Princeton, now 5-4 overall and 0-1 Ivy, will be resuming league play on October 1 when it hosts Dartmouth in the first game to be held at the new Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

If Extreme Makeover: Stadium Edition existed, the Princeton University women’s soccer team would be the perfect subject.

The Tigers have been intentionally avoiding even looking toward Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium as Princeton completes a rebuild of the team’s new home that it will share with the men’s team.

“We’ll get on the bus and we’ll drive by it and everyone will look the opposite direction,” said Princeton head coach Sean Driscoll. “No one has actually really seen what it looks like to my knowledge and they’ve all been steadfast with that. I think come Wednesday or Thursday when we unveil it for our first session they’re going to be buzzing and that’s what I want. There are so few surprises in life, I want this to be something really memorable for the team.”

The Tigers will get the big reveal in their first practice at the new stadium this week. They are hoping they can jumpstart the second half of their season when they host Dartmouth on October 1 at 1 p.m. in their first game at the new venue.

“Not getting the result we wanted, I do think it’s perfect timing to find a new home, to establish a new identity potentially and take very seriously the opportunity to start brand new because the stadium has no results in it,” said Driscoll. “It has no wins, has no losses, has no draws, has nothing. That’s for us to create.”

Princeton dropped its Ivy League opener at Yale, 1-0, last Saturday to fall to 5-4 overall. The Tigers have lost four of their last six games going into Tuesday’s scheduled non-conference game at Bucknell as they face a short turnaround.

“They’re undefeated at home,” said Driscoll. “It’s going to be a challenging game. We’re going to have to find ways to continue to develop as a group. I’m very curious because I think all this stuff comes down to if you lose, how does your team respond? Do they feel sorry for themselves? Are they jaded? Or do they come back and use that as the impetus to improve and move to the next? I think that’s the only choice you have in life, but specifically in sport, is to have a very short-term memory and move on to the next.”

Princeton also can’t get caught looking ahead to the excitement of opening their new stadium. Princeton has been playing home games on Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium.

“Sherrerd is beautiful,” said Driscoll. “It’s wonderful, the video board and the environment. The crowd has been awesome every time we’ve played there. But it’s nice to have your thing.”

The opening of the new stadium has been anticipated for a long while. Myslik Field was deemed unplayable in 2018, and the team used it in 2019 but the field surface wasn’t up to its usual standards with the stadium already being slated for a rebuild. There was no 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in 2021 the Tigers also played in Sherrerd during construction.

“The team has not had a home base really since 2017 when you knew it was your place because 2019 was not the same Roberts/Myslik that it is,” said Driscoll. “When you think about it in those terms it’s been five years. Just the seniors have been in Roberts Stadium. The others don’t even know what it looks like. That’s incredible when you think about that. They don’t understand having your own team room and all this stuff is a huge deal. They have no idea what it means to have your own place. To say it’s exciting would be the greatest understatement for the coaching staff and those players and the current seniors, and then the new kids who haven’t had a chance to have their own place and not share it with lacrosse.”

Driscoll was one of the people consulted about the new stadium, which has some different features than the old Roberts Stadium. It will have some stands on the team bench side, and one end has stands embedded in a grassy hill where Princeton students – most notably a quite vocal group of football players – have occupied in year’s past. It will be one of only a handful of college soccer stadiums in the country that is fully enclosed.

“This is like a proper English or Irish first or second division stadium,” said Driscoll. “The kids are going to love it. It’s going to have a totally unique feel, which is what I’m so excited about. It’s going to be really cool. If you pack it, you’re going to have people everywhere. You’re going to have a concourse you can walk all the way around. It’s going to a very intimate environment, and it’s definitely got a hint of the old Roberts Stadium, but it also have some tweaks to make it even better.”

Princeton, too, will be looking to be an even better version of itself in its new home. Princeton has not scored in any of the four games it lost in that stretch, but handled George Mason, 4-1, and beat Hofstra, 1-0. The Tigers who outshot Yale, 19-9, and had a 14-4 advantage in corner kicks.

“We’re outshooting opponents, we’re having more chances in general, more chances on frame,” said Driscoll. “In every game we’ve played except Rutgers, we’ve had a healthy number of more chances, like double. It’s not a lack of chances. It’s maybe a lack of quality chances, a lack of poise in the box, frankly a little bit of luck. We’ve been a little bit unlucky. I hate to use that, but in this sport, you do need to have some luck on your side. This is a team that hasn’t gotten that bit of luck so far. I feel for the kids. I think they work hard. I have zero issues with their work ethic, I have zero issues with the way we train. It’s a really enjoyable group. It’s a very talented group. It’s also a very inexperienced group. I think that’s part of it as well.”

The Bulldogs scored in the sixth minute last Saturday, then held off Princeton in their first loss at Yale since 2006. Princeton never could get the equalizer to rally after falling behind early, something that has happened too often in the first half of the season.

“We’ve made life difficult for ourselves,” said Driscoll. “We’ve conceded five goals in the opening five minutes of games. That’s an uncharacteristic situation that we’re experiencing, It’s very much head scratching. That’s in four games. We responded in one and weren’t able to respond in the other three. It puts you on your back foot. It changes the mindset a little bit, it changes the game plan sometimes. Even though you have 85 or 80 minutes remaining, it changes the mindset of the team unfortunately. And we’re learning that.”

There have been silver linings even in the losses, moments where Driscoll has seen remarkable play from his team in stretches. Princeton is looking to be more consistent with those moments from start to finish.

“The beauty of establishing a great reputation in the many years that this program has been around, many years before I got here, and we’re trying to continue it, you create a reputation and you’re going to put a target on your back with many teams,” said Driscoll. “You have to be ready for their best. The most important thing to do when you’ve established yourself is you have to understand you can’t take one second of the 90 minutes off. This sport can be really cruel sometimes, and you have to respect it. The minute you take a second off, that can be the second that determines if you win or lose the game.”

Princeton will play five of its final seven games in the new Roberts Stadium. It’s a chance to establish a home advantage and build momentum in the Ivies.

“When you’re hosting Dartmouth (5-3-1 overall, 0-1 Ivy) in your first game and then you’re hosting Brown and Harvard and Penn, those are massive games,” said Driscoll. “As I told the team, you control your own destiny. That’s how you have to look at this. You can be upset about the result you just had, but you control your own destiny and you’re doing it with four Ivy League games and one non-conference game in your own stadium. How cool is that?”

Princeton defeated Dartmouth, 3-0, last year on its way to a 6-1 Ivy season. Both teams dropped their conference openers so the game pits two teams with similar styles in similar situations within the Ivy race.

“I think it’ll be a really well played, eye-pleasing game,” said Driscoll. “It’s not overly direct. There’s a focus on retention of the ball and movement and spacing. I just think it’s always a good game with them. Philosophically we’re similar and I think it lends itself to a good game. I’m curious to see how we handle the emotions of having that kind of pressure to win.”

Driscoll is hopeful that the stadium opening will give the Tigers a little extra push to play for a win. He’s also wary of overhyping it, and curious how his less experienced players will handle their emotions in the moment.

“When you put a kid on the field in their first year for the first time in front of 2,000 or 3,000 fans, some are really motivated by that, some are really intimidated by that,” said Driscoll. “You don’t know which one it’s going to be until they get out there. You don’t play in front of that in high school, you don’t play in front of that in club. You don’t know what that will elicit out of a player, you just have to let it happen and see what transpires. I just hope we can channel all our energy in the right direction. I know the kids will be up for it. I know they’re so excited, I know I’m excited. A lot of recruits have seen the facility, and we have not.”