Men: Soccer Teams Smash Middlebury
Issue   |   Wed, 09/21/2011 - 03:11
Megan Robertson '15

The men’s soccer team had the kind of weekend they hope will define their season. The Lord Jeffs opened NESCAC play with a perfect 2-0 record, with wins over rivals Bates, 3-2 and Middlebury 3-0. Amherst was able to turn a fast start into a win in both games, but the way they did so could not have been more different.

In their first NESCAC game of the season, the Jeffs quickly built an early 3-0 advantage powered by goals from Federico Sucre ’13, Spencer Noon ’13, and Jae Heo ’14. On the first goal, Heo darted from the midfield to the end line before laying off a perfect ball to a trailing Sucre, who fired it past the keeper into the far side of the net in the 11th minute. The second goal, which came six minutes later, featured a beautiful cross from Brendan Caslin ’14 to the far post, where Noon converted on a masterful diving header to the near post.

The third goal showed off some of Heo’s field-sense when he astutely followed up Noon’s saved penalty (a penalty he drew with some nimble footwork, it should be noted) with a tap into the far post. His goal would be the Jeffs’ last, and that’s when the trouble started for the team.

Amherst lost focus and momentum for the last 30 minutes of the game, when Bates turned two set pieces (a penalty and a corner, respectively) into goals. Bates threatened to tie several times, but keeper Lennard Kovacs ’12 and the defense were able to keep the score at 3-2 and earn the three points that come with the win. Even so, players and coaches alike were frustrated after the game.

Thebe Tsatsimpe ’12, one of the captains, was happy to escape with a win. “The team seemed to forget that soccer is a 90-minute game and not a 50-minute game. The intensity was good in the first 50 minutes but we let it slip thereafter. The upper hand changes very quickly in soccer games and Bates definitely gave us a reminder of that. I am happy it happened earlier in the season as opposed to later so that it serves as a caution for us.”

Heo put it more simply. “We were not satisfied with the result against Bates. After the game, we knew that we should have beaten them without giving up any goals. We struggled on Saturday. We got together in our locker room after the game to talk about how we can be even better, from being just good to being great.”

Sunday would prove to be a new day. In what players and coaches were billing as the most important home match of the season, the team came out with energy, aggression, and organization against Middlebury, the 18th-ranked team in the nation and one of the Jeffs’ main rivals.

Heo needed only six minutes to put the Jeffs in front. His goal came off a set piece from an awkward angle 25 yards out near the left corner of the field. The ball miraculously made its way through a cluster of players and into the net to give the hosts an early advantage.

The second goal came when Noon took a long, chipped-through ball from Max Fikke ’14 and slotted it past the keeper for a 2-0 lead 27 minutes into the game.

Middlebury came out of halftime with renewed fight and barely missed a pair of chances that came minutes apart. The Panthers kept attacking, but some stellar goalkeeping from Kovacs and purposeful organization on the back end helped the Jeffs keep their opponents at bay.

Sophomore Julien Aoyama said the constant chatter on the field was no accident. “Our coach stressed communication a lot and all of us in the back did our best to talk throughout the whole game and make our presence known. We did a good job of keeping our shape and that helped a lot throughout the game. I think a lot of it came from our two center backs, Sam Kaplan ’12 and Ben Norton ’14.”

In the 83rd minute, completely against the run of play, NESCAC player of the week Heo took a long goal kick, turned past his defender, and buried the ball just inside the far post. Showing that stats can be deceiving, the Panthers held a 17-7 shot advantage, 13-2 in the second half.

Kovacs definitely felt the energy, both from the rowdy fans and the dedicated sideline. “Today was a great team effort, from all 28 players on the team. The bench showed great energy throughout the game and everyone on the field worked really hard. We wanted to win, and we brought from minute one to minute 90 the needed energy. I’m very happy with our performance today, and want to thank everyone who came out to the game. It really helped.”

Coach Justin Serpone agreed. “A big part of our win on Sunday can be credited towards the energy that our bench provided the guys on field all game. That along with all of the support from our fans and students, were enough to carry us through. I can’t express enough how thankful we are to be so supported by the community.”

Despite their strong start, Serpone refuses to look ahead at their potential NESCAC championship aspirations. “We are only two games into our NESCAC schedule and there is a long way to go before we can start to get an idea of the potential we have. There was some bad and some good this weekend so we just need to focus on getting better in practice this week and start thinking about Hamilton.”