October 12, 2022

Despite Superb Effort by Senior Star Diaz Bonilla, PU Men’s Soccer Falls to Yale in New Stadium Debut

DOGGED PURSUIT: Princeton University men’s soccer player Daniel Diaz Bonilla, right, goes after the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior star forward and co-captain Diaz Bonilla made history, scoring the first goal for the men’s squad in the new Roberts Stadium as Princeton hosted Yale. The tally by Diaz Bonilla, though, was not enough as the Tigers fell 3-1 to the Bulldogs. Princeton, now 4-4-1 overall and 1-1 Ivy League, plays at Columbia on October 15 and at Virginia Tech on October 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Daniel Diaz Bonilla and his teammates on the Princeton University men’s soccer team were fired up last Saturday to finally play their first game at the new Roberts Stadium.

After their originally scheduled debut at the new venue against Monmouth on October 4 was postponed due to a rainstorm, Princeton hosted Yale four days later.

“It is a total privilege to play here,” said Princeton senior star forward and co-captain Diaz Bonilla. “It is a beautiful venue, it is probably the best venue in the Ivy League.”

But the debut turned ugly for the Tigers as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 3-0 lead by early in the second half and held off a late Princeton charge to earn a 3-1 win, snapping its eight-game winning streak in Ivy League play over the last two years.

“We are really disappointed that we couldn’t open up the stadium with a win,” said Diaz Bonilla, who ended the game on the sidelines with his left knee wrapped in ice after taking a knock late in the second half. “It is sad we couldn’t get a win on this beautiful field.”

In falling to 4-4-1 overall and 1-1 Ivy, Princeton struggled to find an offensive rhythm.

“I think we need to keep our grit on defense and then as soon as we get the ball, calm it down and start playing more calmly on offense,” said Diaz Bonilla, a 5’11, 175-pound native of Vienna, Va. “That is the way we are going to get goals and get chances. At the end of the day, you can’t win the Ivy League if you are conceding three soft goals. It starts with focus on the defensive end and then we just have to put away our chances.”

Down by three goals, the Tigers showed focus as they pressed forward to cut into the Yale lead.

“When we were 3-0 down, we decided we had nothing to lose so just go for it,” said Diaz Bonilla. “We were fortunate enough to get a goal back and we probably could have gotten another one.”

It was Diaz Bonilla who tallied the goal with a blast at the 57:41 mark, making history in a losing cause, becoming the first Tiger men’s player to score in the new venue.

“I just figured if no one else is going to do it, I better do it,” said Diaz Bonilla, who now has three goals on the season to go along with two assists. “I decided to take it on myself, we need more of that from guys. I think guys need to not expect someone else to score and say I am going to score this goal so that is what I was thinking on my goal.”

As Diaz Bonilla heads into the final weeks of his Princeton career, he is looking for a big finish.

“It is definitely a sense of urgency — this is my third season and fourth year
at the school,” said Diaz Bonilla. “I think 25 guys haven’t lost an Ivy League game because we went 7-0 last year. But for me, I know what it is like to lose. I have been in these games before. This is my last year so I want to go out on top.”

Princeton associate head coach Steve Totten was disappointed that the Tigers didn’t come up with a win in their first game at their new home.

“We think it is a premier facility in college soccer,” said Totten. “Our guys have been really excited just to train out here and every time they see it, we know how lucky we are and what a special place it is. It is disappointing not to get the result on the first day. We are still very thankful for what we have and hopefully we put a performance worthy of the place next time.”

Totten acknowledged that Princeton was outperformed for much of the game by a tough Yale squad.

“Yale is a really hard team to break down, that has always been one of their best traits,” said Totten. “I don’t think we really understood what it was going to take until it was two or three down. Even saying that, when it was 1-0, we created the really good chance that was headed over the bar and they scored soon after. Then when it was 2-0, we created another good chance inside the six that we didn’t do enough with and they scored soon after that one.”

The Tigers did create some good chances as they battled back down the stretch, outshooting Yale 19-5 in the second half.

“There was probably about 30 minutes here I think we can be really proud of,” said Totten. “If the guys understand that is the expectation then maybe we have made some strides that can help us the rest of the way. But we need to have that from the beginning of the game and then the team has enough quality to win the league.”

In Totten’s view, Diaz Bonilla displayed his quality in the defeat.

“This might have been his best game of the year where he was good at everything,” said Totten.

“He played simple at the right times. He made good, clear connections at the tight times. He got chances for the team. We need that version of Daniel if we are going to be a successful team.”

While the loss stung, Totten noted that the Tigers are still very much in the Ivy title race as they look to win a second straight league crown.

“We have a good opportunity to prove ourselves next week,” said Totten, referring to Princeton’s game at Columbia on October 15. “In the Ivy League, every game is a championship game. If we win all five, we are champions. It is still in our hands because Yale already has a loss. We control our own destiny but winning five Ivy League games is really, really hard. We just have to start with one at a time.”

Diaz Bonilla, for his part, believes the defeat to Yale could serve as a wake-up call for Princeton.

“The best thing I can think about after this game is that maybe it is a blessing in disguise and it gets us going,” said Diaz Bonilla. “It is hard to play as a champ sometimes because everyone is gunning for you. Now I feel like we are kind of an underdog and we have to chase the league. Hopefully this gets the guys fired up and we go into next week ready to go.”