After a disappointing 0-0 draw against Williams over fall break, the men’s soccer team rebounded with three shutout wins over Trinity, Colby and Bowdoin this past fortnight, grabbing sole possession of first place in the NESCAC standings.
The undefeated Jeffs (11-0-1, 7-0-1 NESCAC, ranked No. 2 in the nation) currently lead No. 17 Williams (6-0-2) by two points in the race for the conference’s top seed. Amherst has two conference matches remaining: at third-place Wesleyan (5-1-1) on Saturday and Conn. College (0-2-6) on Wednesday.
In a clash of NESCAC heavyweights, Amherst and Williams engaged in a tight, back-and-forth battle. The Jeffs controlled the bulk of possession and scoring chances – holding a 25-9 advantage in shots – but failed to convert opportunities in the final third of the pitch. After the 20-minute mark, the Jeffs began to impose control over the flow of play, pinning the Ephs deep in their territory for long stretches. Skillful winger Julien Aoyama ’14 created the Jeffs’ best scoring chance in the first half, weaving his way past four Williams defenders to penetrate the 18-yard-box. His ensuing shot, however, fired straight into the arms of Ephs’ goalkeeper Than Finan.
The Jeffs continued to produce quality scoring chances in the second half. Minutes after the intermission, senior Spencer Noon’s low cross found Jae Heo ’14 in the box, but the Korean’s shot was denied by a diving save from Finan. In the 57th minute, Noon served a corner to Federico Sucre ’13 at the back post, but Finan slid over to smother the header. The Jeffs continued to bombard the box with a relentless stream of crosses, but could not find the necessary breakthrough.
Finan finished with six saves, while Amherst goalkeeper Thomas Bull recorded two stops. Having not defeated Williams since 2008 (going 0-1-3 in the last three meetings), the Jeffs were extra-disappointed by the inconclusive result.
“Truthfully, not getting a result against Williams was disappointing,” head coach Justin Serpone said. “You have to find a way to get a goal in big games.”
“On the flip side, I thought our defense really held up well. Not giving up goals is the most important thing for any successful team, especially against good teams like Williams,” Serpone said.
The Jeffs have played stingy team defense all season long, limiting opponents to just one goal in 12 matches. Amherst has surrendered just 20 shots on net so far this season.
Frustrated by the missed opportunity against Williams, the Jeffs took out their anger in a 6-0 shell-shacking of Trinity three days later. The Bantams (3-3-2 NESCAC) had conceded just five goals in six previous NESCAC games (an average of 0.83), but the Jeffs absolutely shredded the Trinity defense. The Jeffs were particularly lethal on set pieces, scoring three goals from corners and free kicks.
Noon paced the Jeffs attack with two goals, the first of which pushed him past the 100-point career milestone. Max Fikke ’14, Milton Rico ’15, Gabriel Wirz ’15 and Greg Singer ’16 also scored in the romp.
“The Trinity game was just a matter of finishing our chances,” Serpone said. “Trinity is a good team and we made the most of our opportunities. I was especially happy with how we responded to the tie against Williams.”
The Jeffs then dispatched a feisty Colby side 2-0 this past Saturday. Despite their winless league record (0-6-2 NESCAC), the Mules challenged the Jeffs with a gritty effort, keeping the contest a one-goal affair until the 88th minute.
“Hats off to Colby. They did a very good job against us on Saturday and I thought outplayed us at times,” Serpone said.
Amherst raced to a scintillating start, as Brian Morgan ’13 staked Amherst to a 1-0 lead just 3:08 into the match. Wreaking havoc for the Colby backline all day, Noon maneuvered past a defender on the left side before lofting a cross into the box, allowing Morgan to stick the header past the Mules’ goalkeeper.
Unlike the Trinity match, however, the Jeffs struggled to capitalize on scoring chances, as the score remained 1-0 until the 88th minute. Late in the match, however, Noon drew a foul in the penalty box after creating a partial breakaway for himself; after gathering the ball in midfield, the senior striker nudged the ball behind the Colby defense before outsprinting his opponents in the open field. After Noon was clipped from behind in the box, Aoyama coolly slotted home the penalty to cement the 2-0 win.
“It wasn’t our best effort but a win in mid-October is never going to be easy, especially against a well coached team like Colby,” Serpone said.
Against Bowdoin (3-3-2 NESCAC) on Sunday, the Jeffs gutted out a 1-0 victory in a relatively defensive battle.
“Bowdoin was a grind-it-out type game and we found a way to win,” Serpone said. “They are a good, tough team and I thought we really worked hard to earn the win.”
The Jeffs almost took the lead just 1:21 after the opening whistle, as Greg Singer ’16 – making his first collegiate start – glanced a header just wide after a cross from James Mooney ’13E.
Rather than adopt a defensive posture, the Polar Bears began to push forward on offense as the half progressed, and nearly stunned the hosts with a glorious opportunity in the 23rd minute. The Polar Bears caught Amherst goalkeeper Thomas Bull out of position, but Bowdoin’s Zach Danssaert’s shooting attempt on an empty net was blocked by the Amherst defense.
Jolted by the defensive scare, the Jeffs intensified their attacking pressure in the latter stages of the first half. Breaking free in the 27th minute, Noon nearly scored by chipping the goaltender, but his effort went over the crossbar. Ten minutes later, Aoyama raced down the right flank, splitting two defenders before curling a left-footed shot above the outstretched goalkeeper – only to see the attempt bounce off the crossbar.
Amherst finally broke the deadlock five minutes before the end of the first half. Heo served a corner kick to the back post, where Milton Rico ’15 sent a low header into the back of the net.
The second half saw few scoring chances from either side, as both teams struggled to sustain possession or offensive rhythm.
The Jeffs’ defensive unit suffocated Bowdoin’s offense, restricting the Polar Bears to just one shot in the final 45 minutes. Amherst ended the match with a 19-5 edge in shots.