Propelled by lethal set pieces, superior skill and tenacious defensive pressure, the undefeated men’s soccer team steam-rolled past league rivals Hamilton and Middlebury last weekend. The Jeffs (5-0, 3-0 NESCAC, ranked No. 3 in the nation) trounced Hamilton 5-1 on Saturday before scraping out a 2-0 victory at Middlebury on Sunday.
In the home opener against Hamilton, the Jeffs overwhelmed the Continentals from the opening whistle, dominating possession in the offensive half for long stretches. The Jeffs scored the opening goal in the 15th minute. After midfielder Jae Heo ’14 served a free kick from the left edge of the box, Spencer Noon ’13 leapt above his defender and struck a thunderous header past the Hamilton goalkeeper.
Amherst continued to batter the Hamilton defense with waves of pressure, extending the lead to 2-0 in the 21st minute. In the midst of a scramble inside Hamilton’s box, James Mooney ’13E buried the loose ball for his first goal of the season. The Jeffs led 2-0 at halftime and held a 13-2 edge in shots after 45 minutes.
Hamilton would not go quietly, however, stunning the Jeffs with a goal against the run of play in the 48th minute. The Continentals’ tally was the first goal conceded by the Jeffs this year, breaking a scoreless run of 3:17:19 to start the season.
Not jolted by the surprising setback, the Jeffs roared back by netting three goals in an 11-minute span, continuing to punish Hamilton on set pieces. Amherst restored its two-goal cushion in the 59th minute; having received a free kick near the right edge of the box, Chris Lerner ’13 curled a cross into the middle, allowing Heo to loft a header above the Hamilton goalkeeper, who had ventured far from his line.
Just five minutes later, Federico Sucre ’13 pushed the lead to 4-1, heading home a free kick from Heo. Sucre added a second goal in the 70th minute, with Mike Hoeksema ’15 providing the assist.
“We put in a good all-around team performance against Hamilton. Every guy that went into the game was able to step up and get the job done for us,” Mooney said. “Giving up a goal was unfortunate, but I felt that we regrouped and responded well by scoring three more goals.”
Four of Amherst’s five goals resulted from free kick opportunities. The Jeffs boast a dazzling array of aerial attacking weapons — including the 6’5” Sucre twins and Noon, the program’s all-time leading scorer — while skilled players such as Heo, Lerner and Julien Aoyama ’14 are masterful at swerving crosses into the box. This deadly combination of height and finesse tormented Hamilton’s beleaguered defense on Saturday.
“Our team has the mentality that we will dominate on set pieces,” Mooney said. “We have great height and the ability to get good service in the box, so every set piece we get is a good chance to score.”
The Jeffs faced a stiffer test at Middlebury, a traditional NESCAC powerhouse, the next day. Unfazed by the hostile atmosphere, Amherst created a fantastic scoring opportunity in the 10th minute when Max Fikke ’14 went in alone on a breakaway, but his shooting attempt went wide of the net.
With scoring chances few and far between in the first half — Amherst and Middlebury combined for just three total shots in the opening 45 minutes — the Jeffs capitalized on their only other first-half opportunity in the 38th minute, grabbing a 1-0 lead just before the break. Aoyama, a wing defender, raced down the right flank before sending a cross to Heo, who headed the ball into the back of the net.
Continuing to push forward in the second half, the Jeffs nearly extended their lead to 2-0 in the 59th minute, but sophomore Milton Rico’s shot clanged off the crossbar. Increasingly desperate for an equalizer, the Panthers finally generated some pressure midway through the second half, earning two corner-kick opportunities in the 63rd and 68th minutes. The Jeffs’ stingy defense was up to the task, however, stifling Middlebury’s offense for the entire 90 minutes.
The Jeffs put the game away with an insurance goal in the 82nd minute. Noon delivered a nice ball to Mooney, who took a nifty first touch in the box before rifling a shot toward net. The shot caromed off a Middlebury defender, leaving little chance for the Panthers’ goalkeeper to stop the attempt.
Irritated after conceding a goal to Hamilton the previous day, the Amherst backline delivered a gritty performance at Middlebury, limiting the Panthers to just two total shots. First-year goalkeeper Thomas Bull was not forced to make any saves en route to his fourth shutout in five games.
“Middlebury is a great program, and to win on their home field is a tough proposition. I was proud of how we battled and showed resolve after making a long trip the night before,” head coach Justin Serpone said. “Any NESCAC win is a good win…on the road at Middlebury is a great win.”
Middlebury had never lost back-to-back home games in its history, but last weekend’s defeats to Bowdoin and Amherst broke that remarkable streak.
“The odds were stacked against us, but we were able to exert our will on the game,” Mooney said. “It was not our best performance and we have a lot to improve upon, but it was important that we were able to push through the game and get the win even though we weren’t at our very best,” Mooney said.
In a non-league test against Curry Coll. on Tuesday, Sept. 25, the Jeffs rebounded from a scoreless first half to tally five late goals and ultimately cruise, 5-0. Five different players joined in the scoring effort, including Noon and Hoeksema.
The Jeffs will return to action this Saturday, hitting the road to battle against Tufts. The resurgent Jumbos (2-0-2 NESCAC) have raced out to a fantastic start this season, surging into third place in the NESCAC standings. Amherst (3-0-0) and Williams (4-0-1 NESCAC) round out the top three teams in the conference table.
“Tufts might be the best team in the New England this year,” Serpone said. “They have one of the best players in the league [striker Gus Santos] and it’s a road game for us. If we’re going to be able to stay in the game, it’s going to be because every single guy on the roster brings their best effort.”