Men’s soccer ends month-long win streak with loss to UNH

by Ray Lu | 10/28/15 7:10pm

The men’s soccer team (8-4-1, 4-0 Ivy) lost its first game in over a month, falling 2-0 to the University of New Hampshire (9-3-3, 2-2-1 America East) in a Tuesday night road game. Dartmouth’s win streak was snapped at six games, although each of the team’s four losses this season have come against non-conference opponents as the Big Green remains undefeated in Ivy League play.

The defeat marks another year that Dartmouth has proven unable to top UNH, last defeating the Wildcats in 2010. While the Big Green is alone at the top of the Ivy League standings, both UNH and Dartmouth have seen themselves in the national rankings at some point this season. Dartmouth broke into the National Soccer Coaches Association of America rankings this past weekend after its emphatic victory against Columbia University. The Big Green came in at No. 24., the only Ancient Eight team to receive any votes in the poll.

“[UNH] was in the top 25 at different points in the season, so we knew it was going to be a competitive game, especially with the in-state rivalry and how we haven’t beat them in a little while,” James Hickok ’17 said.

In this mid-week road game, the Big Green (8-4-1, 4-0 Ivy) gave a couple of starters some needed rest and reached deep into the bench for starters. Devin Pierre ’17 and Brendan Barth ’17 made their first starts of the season, and Hickok stepped in at keeper for co-captain Stefan Cleveland ’16.

Both teams fought hard, and the Big Green knew that UNH was going to be a tough matchup coming in, head coach Chad Riley said.

Both teams struggled to find offensive footing throughout the game. Neither team could find the back of the net during the game’s first period, and the two goals by the Wildcats were scored in a quick two minute burst in the second half.

“We’ll look at those goals on video, take them in stride and see how we can improve in this coming weekend,” Hickok said.

UNH senior Fazal Nabi tacked on his fourth and fifth goals of the season in the 59th and 62nd minutes, respectively. The Wildcats set up Nabi’s first goal with a series of passes around the box. The ball movement opened up space and provided and opening for Nabi, who shot across Hickok’s body and buried the ball in the back left corner. Just a few possessions later, Nabi found the opposite back corner in similar fashion.

“I think both teams played well,” Riley said. “They were just able to find the back of the net.”

After the Wildcat goals, Dartmouth recovered and pushed the offensive pace. The Big Green racked up seven shots in the final 35 minutes of the game but could not convert. While Dartmouth consistently threatened the opposing half and picked up corner kicks, the Big Green was unable to get past the UNH defense and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Pesci.

Matt Greer ’18 had one of the best opportunities of the game for the Big Green in the 89th minute. Greer ran and collected a ball in the box, but sent his shot just high.

“From the start we had a pretty rough go. We couldn’t really get into the game as a team,” Justin Donawa ’19 said. “We had maybe one or two chances throughout the game that we could’ve capitalized on but unfortunately we didn’t, and [UNH] capitalized on the few chances they had.”

The weekday game serves as useful practice for the Big Green as the team prepares for its big Halloween showdown with Harvard University. Dartmouth currently holds a one-game lead in the race for the Ivy League title, but the Crimson is not far behind. Harvard will enter the matchup coming off a 2-1 victory against Boston College on Tuesday.

The game against the Wildcats, who play a similar formation to the Crimson, was a valuable tune-up, Riley said. Additionally, Riley emphasized Dartmouth’s one-game-at-a-time approach to the coming slate of matches.

Dartmouth and Harvard are the clear frontrunners for the Ivy League title this season with only three weekends of conference play remaining. Last year, Princeton University and Dartmouth shared the crown. No team, however, has won back-to-back Ivy League men’s soccer titles since Dartmouth did so in 2004 and 2005. Princeton is out of contention, currently sitting tied with the University of Pennsylvania for fifth place at 1-2-1 in Ivy League play, but the Big Green is in a good position to make a run at the repeat.

“We’re still looking for our best performance of the season,” Riley said.

The team’s offensive philosophy has changed greatly this season after many talented players from last year’s squad signed with professional teams. Alex Adelabu ’15 led a squad that scored 1.84 goals per game with 10 goals last season.

This season, Dartmouth currently has no players with more than three goals. This year’s team is also scoring nearly half a goal fewer per game, coming in at 17 total goals for 1.31 goals per game.

The Big Green has, however, has managed to successfully reinvent itself and carry over its old success.

The defense and outstanding play of Cleveland have kept the Big Green around in tight games. All but one of the College’s Ivy League victories this season were 1-0 results, and the experience in high pressure situations will prove valuable for the team as it aims to make another postseason run.

Looking forward to the Crimson, Donawa said the two recent games have given the team a chance to practice and the team now has some time to focus on the upcoming matchup.

I think we’ve definitely done everything in our power to get better every day and go out and train every day and work our tails off,” he said. “I think it’s paying off, especially in the Ivy League...and I think we’ll definitely come out with a good result against Harvard if we play how we’ve been playing.”

The Big Green will play Harvard on Oct. 31 at Cambridge, Mass. with kick-off at 4:30 p.m.