Men’s soccer defeats defending conference-champs Princeton, 1-0
A late goal propelled the Big Green to a big victory over Princeton on Saturday.
The best birthday present Eric Sachleben ’23 received this year was the one he gave himself: a game-winning goal against the reigning Ivy League champions.
Behind Sachleben’s goal in the 72nd minute, the Dartmouth men’s soccer team (4-3-1, 1-0-0 Ivy) opened Ivy League play with a 1-0 win versus Princeton University (5-3-0, 0-1-0) on Saturday. And, like most freshmen still acclimating themselves to life at Dartmouth, Sachleben was not sure what to do next.
“To be honest, I didn’t know what to do,” Sachleben, who turned 19 on Saturday, said after the game. “Apparently, we’re supposed to run straight to the fans. I was just so shook. I just kind of looked around, like, ‘Holy smokes ... I just scored.’ I just ran over to the stands and jumped up there, and I was just not even thinking.”
The win extended the Big Green’s unbeaten streak versus Princeton to six games, as the Big Green is now 4-0-2 in those matchups. The two programs have been the recent gold standard in the Ivy League, with either program winning at least a share of the conference championship in each of the last five years. The Big Green and the Tigers shared the title themselves as recently as 2014.
“Give a lot of credit to Princeton,” Dartmouth head coach Bo Oshoniyi said. “They’re a good team, great program. Jimmy Barlow’s an unbelievable coach, and they were prepared. I give them credit. They played really well tonight.”
Sachleben’s goal was the difference-maker on what was generally a tough day for the Big Green offense. Dartmouth struggled to get scoring chances, particularly in the first half, when it was held without a shot for the first 22 minutes of the game. Oshoniyi acknowledged that “our legs were a little heavy,” attributing the Big Green’s slow start to the double-overtime marathon the team played on Tuesday against the University of Connecticut which concluded in a 2-2 tie.
However, even with the game seemingly tilted in Princeton’s favor, the Big Green defensive unit stepped up in a big way. Goalkeeper Alex Budnik ’22 stopped all four Tigers’ shots on goal, en route to his second shutout of the season. He also received help from the defense in front of him, particularly when faced with the Tigers’ nine corner kicks.
“From day one of preseason, we’ve made that a staple of the defending,” Budnik said. “Everybody knows their roles, everybody’s in the right spot, so it makes my job a lot easier. I remind them if they’re out of position, but they have a good sense of where they need to be and then we clear the ball and move on from that.”
Notably kept off the scoreboard was Walker Gillespie, the Princeton freshman who came into Saturday’s game with an Ivy League-leading five goals and 11 total points.
“With every team, we highlight a couple of key players,” Budnik said. “He was one of them. It’s always a good thing when we have an idea going into the game knowing who we should worry a little bit more about. As it showed, he didn’t really have much of an effect on the game. Our defenders held him off pretty well, our midfielders screened him very well, and it worked out.”
Princeton’s best chance to score came nearly immediately after Sachleben’s tiebreaker, with shots in both the 72nd and 74th minutes, but thanks to a bit of luck and a Budnik save, the Big Green held its ground. The most pivotal moment, however, arguably happened just 13 minutes prior, when the referees issued Braden Salvati ’20 a yellow card in the 59th minute, causing Oshoniyi to substitute Sachleben into the game.
The decision proved shrewd.
“All credit to him, he finds a way to get the game-winner,” Oshoniyi said. “As a freshman, that’s huge. He’s been training really, really well. He’s a great kid, hard worker, and I’m happy for him.”
Now, the Big Green turns its attention to the second-half of its schedule, starting with a midweek contest against the University of Vermont on Tuesday. Then, Ivy League play begins to ramp up further, with games against Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania on each of the following Saturdays.
At the midpoint of their season, Oshoniyi said he is happy with where the team is at, though he does believe there is room for improvement as the competition becomes centered around in-conference opponents.
“We need to find a way to win on the road,” he said. “We’re struggling a bit on the road. So, going to Yale, we’re going to look to right that.”
All four of Dartmouth’s wins this season have come in Hanover, with the team holding a 23-game home winning streak. All three losses, meanwhile, have come away from Burnham Field. In order for the Big Green to remedy this trend, the team will have to be more successful at creating offensive chances, something it struggled to accomplish on Saturday.
“We just have to continue to work on keeping possession of the ball,” Oshoniyi said. “Defensively, we’re pretty good, but I just think [we need to be better] on the ball and creating chances to score goals.”
Sachleben echoed those sentiments.
“We had trouble getting and maintaining possession,” he said. “I think just settling down, keeping the ball and playing our game is something we’ve got to keep doing. We’re doing a good job, but we could do better in the future.”
Still, a win is a win, and Saturday’s victory was undoubtedly a big one, coming against the reigning league champions.
“Obviously, that wasn’t our best body of work out on the field, but we have a bend-don’t-break mentality,” Budnik said. “We bent and we bent and we bent, but we never broke, so it’s something to take away that we’re always ready, we’re always up for a fight. They took what’s ours, we want it back, and that’s a good way to start.”