Men’s Soccer Dominates Midd. 4-0 in Quarters
Issue   |   Wed, 10/31/2012 - 13:47
Mark Idleman '15, Public Affairs Office

Seeking back-to-back NESCAC titles for the first time in school history, the men’s soccer team steamrolled past Middlebury 4-0 in the first round of the conference tournament this past Saturday.

The undefeated Jeffs (13-0-2, 8-0-2 NESCAC) will travel to Williamstown this weekend to battle Wesleyan (9-3-3, 6-2-2 NESCAC) in the NESCAC semifinals. Williams (13-0-2, 8-0-2 NESCAC), who snatched the top seed over Amherst by virtue of a coin flip, hosts Tufts in the other semifinal.

Amherst and Williams finished with the same conference record (8-0-2) and tied each other 0-0 in the one head-to-head matchup on Oct. 6. Both schools had identical records against top-four teams (1-0-2) and top-eight teams (5-0-2) in the conference, exhausting all tiebreakers in the process. Unfortunately for Amherst, the NESCAC never uses goal differential as a tiebreaker; the Jeffs would have edged Williams (+22 to +16) had the category been used.

Frustrated after losing out to Williams by an arbitrary coin flip, the No. 2 Jeffs sent a message to the rest of the league by thrashing No. 7 Middlebury (6-7-1, 3-6-1 NESCAC), handing the Panthers their most lopsided defeat since 2001. After a relatively competitive first half, the Jeffs opened the floodgates with three goals in the final 45 minutes.

“I have all the respect in the world for Middlebury,” head coach Justin Serpone said. “They fought and fought on Saturday, and we were lucky to finish the chances we got.”

Looking to overwhelm Middlebury from the opening whistle, the Jeffs nearly scored in the seventh minute when Gabriel Wirz ’15 headed a corner kick from Jae Heo ’14, but Panthers’ goalkeeper Zach Abdu-Glass swatted away the attempt before his defenders cleared the ball from danger. The Panthers played the Jeffs tough in the early stages, and nearly grabbed the lead when Alvand Hajizadeh’s shot forced Amherst goalkeeper Thomas Bull ’16 to make a leaping save in the 16th minute.

As the match progressed, however, the Jeffs slowly began to exert their dominance in Middlebury’s end of the field, beating the Panthers to loose ‘50-50’ balls while attacking the 18-yard box with a steady stream of crosses. Amherst took a 1-0 lead off a brilliant goal in the 32nd minute. After slicing through a few defenders on the left side, Heo lofted a cross into the box, where the six-foot-five Federico Sucre ’13 buried a header for his fifth goal of the season. The Jeffs nearly doubled the lead in the 41st minute, but junior Max Fikke’s close-range header went straight into the hands of a well-positioned Abdu-Glass.

Continuing to push forward aggressively in the second half, the Jeffs went up 2-0 after a bizarre goal in the 57th minute.

Standing by the edge of his own 18-yard-box, Bull launched a long kick that skidded on the wet grass — bouncing past the flat-footed Middlebury defense — before Spencer Noon ’13 sprinted onto the loose ball and fired a low shot past the sliding Panthers’ goalkeeper. Noon, who leads the NESCAC with 11 goals, has scored in each of his past three games.

Sustaining the high intensity level, the Jeffs extended their lead to 3-0 in the 78th minute. After receiving a through-ball by the end line, Julien Aoyama ’14 wrong-footed his defender before sliding the ball between his legs, giving himself a clear path towards the goal mouth. Aoyama’s subsequent centering pass deflected to Fikke, who calmly slotted a shot from the penalty spot area.

Less than five minutes later, the Jeffs struck again on the attack to go up 4-0. Ben Norton ’14 headed home a corner kick from Mike Hoeksema ’15 to cap the scoring.

“It was a solid team win,” Chris Lerner ’13 said. “So many guys contributed; I thought everyone on the team brought great energy.”

“Middlebury is a great team and they always give us a tough test, so it was nice to see the team rise to the challenge,” he said.

The Jeffs out-shot Middlebury by a 14-5 margin and held a decisive 11-1 edge in corner kick opportunities. In a match that highlighted Amherst’s depth and offensive talent, eight different Jeffs factored into the scoring.

“I was most happy that eight different players had hands in our four goals,” Serpone said. “The sign of a good team is when everyone contributes.”

Before facing Middlebury, the Jeffs wrapped up their regular season with a 3-0 win at Conn. College. Amherst raced out to a fantastic start, tallying two goals in the first 23:16 of action before cruising to the shutout victory. Noon opened the scoring in the 10th minute, beating his defender down the right side before chipping the goalkeeper from eight yards out. The Jeffs doubled the lead to 2-0 when Norton buried a header from a Heo corner kick in the 24th minute. James Mooney ’13E added an insurance goal in the 55th minute, as the Jeffs capitalized on yet another corner kick opportunity.

The comfortable victory tasted particularly sweet for the Jeffs, as they avenged last year’s gut-wrenching 3-2 loss to the Camels — a defeat that broke Amherst’s 13-game unbeaten streak in 2011. Conn. College had been undefeated at home (4-0-4) before last week.

“Conn. College is a good team that has gotten the better of us in the recent past, so I was glad to see the effort we put into that game,” Serpone said. “To win 3-0 on the road in this league isn’t easy to do.”

The Jeffs next face Wesleyan in the NESCAC semifinals. When Amherst and Wesleyan clashed in the regular season, the two rivals played to a 1-1 draw at the Cardinals’ homecoming just 10 days ago. The No. 3 Cardinals edged No. 6 Trinity 2-1 last Saturday to advance to the NESCAC’s final four.

“Wesleyan is a great team that is tough, good at soccer and well-coached,” Serpone said. “Anytime you have that combination, winning becomes difficult. We played our worst full game of the season against them the first time around, and we can’t afford to do that again in a playoff game.”

Unlike last year, Amherst will not have the luxury of hosting the semifinals and finals of the NESCAC tournament. The Jeffs, however, aren’t making any excuses heading into the crucial weekend at Williams.

“We try not to worry about or think about things that we can’t control,” Serpone said when asked about Amherst’s relegation to the No. 2 seed. “Having the chance to play in the NESCAC semifinals is a privilege, so whether we play at home or on the road is irrelevant.”

“We’re just focused on a very, very good opponent in Wesleyan and need to make sure we bring our best on Saturday.”