Strong defense leads men’s soccer to scoreless tie with Columbia

by Emily Lu | 10/28/19 2:00am

10-28-19-sports-mensoccer-kylespencer

The Big Green fought hard but none of the team’s shots found the back of the net against Columbia Saturday.

by Kyle Spencer / The Dartmouth

Effective defense and quick saves from the Dartmouth men’s soccer team kept Columbia University off the board in its game on Saturday night, finishing with a scoreless draw in double overtime. The Big Green is now in a three-way tie for second place in the conference with a 2-1-1 record.

“It was a grind, I wouldn’t say it was our best performance in a soccer sense, but our guys [were] believing and closing up defensively and just grinding a result out against a really good Columbia team,” said head coach Bo Oshoniyi.

Yale University, the current leaders in the Ivy League, lost its first conference game of the season against the University of Pennsylvania the same night from an overtime penalty kick. As a result, Dartmouth’s championship hopes remain alive heading into its final games against Harvard University, Cornell University and Brown University.

Earlier in the week, Dartmouth lost 1-0 to the University of Hartford in its last non-conference game of the season. While the teams finished level in shots and shots on goal, Hartford found the back of the net early into the second half for the game-winner. Goalkeeper Henry Stusnick ’20 made his first start of the season and saved five shots.

The Big Green came into the first of its four final conference matches looking to gain points toward the top of the Ivy League ladder. The draw gave the team one point, which places the Big Green in second along with Princeton University and Penn. With Yale’s first loss, there are now only two points separating the first and second place teams. 

“Everyday we’re going to keep chiseling away and chiseling away,” said goalkeeper Alex Budnik ’22. “I know [Yale has] some tough games on the road that they could drop points; it’s all in our hands now to take care of business.”

The Lions took control of possession early into the first half and capitalized on a short pass from Budnik to a defender in the third minute. Intercepting the pass, Columbia slotted the ball into the back of the net; the play, however, was ruled offside and the score remained 0-0. Budnik was called into action in the ninth minute and came up with a double save following a Columbia free kick and a lower left corner rebound. The Big Green goalkeeper was crucial in the back end, tying his career high with seven saves. 

“[I had] to keep giving our team a chance,” Budnik said. “Goals are hard to come by and we do our best in the back to make sure that we give our team the best chance to score a goal and win the game.”

Attempts on offense were less effective, as Columbia outshot Dartmouth eight to three in the first half. The Big Green’s best goal-scoring opportunity came in the 25th minute after Tiger Graham ’21 was fouled in the box. Braden Salvati ’20 stepped up to take the penalty kick — the first for Dartmouth of the season. His lower left shot was read well and unfortunately saved by the Columbia goalkeeper, who committed early to the left side to make the stop.

“Us just being able to keep possession of the ball was a little bit of a struggle,” Oshoniyi said. “We just got the ball into the attacking third but we weren’t dangerous enough. We didn’t have any real mature chances.”

Budnik again had back-to-back saves in the 32nd minute, first getting low and then coming out from the box to knock the ball away. After a patient buildup in the 37th minute, Zach Kalk ’20 was able to turn and take a shot through traffic only to find the hands of the Columbia goalkeeper. 

The offensive picture remained similar in the second half with Dartmouth again producing three shots to Columbia’s eight. A chance came in the 50th minute after Jordan Bailon ’22 sent in a free kick, which eventually found Salvati on the right side of the field. Salvati’s cross was punched away by the Columbia goalkeeper, but Patrick Murphy ’21 was able to get a foot on the rebound before his attempt was deflected at the top of the six. Kota Sakurai ’21, who led the team in shots for the match with three, fired one from outside the box in the 69th minute which also found the hands of the Lions’ goalkeeper.

“[We wanted to be] very clinical in the final third during the game,” Sakurai noted. “I took a lot of shots, but I need to be better. We were working on crossing and finishing, so hopefully we’ll get a lot of goals against Harvard.”

In the 83rd minute, Budnik kept the game scoreless with a diving save for his third clean sheet of the season. The Big Green defense effectively shut the Lions out for the rest of the half and into both overtime periods. The Dartmouth offense persisted late into the second overtime, generating strong attacking opportunities with shots from both Sakurai and Graham.

“Our boys believe and they fight and they battle so that’s something that can’t be lost,” Oshoniyi said. “Now we just have to build on that a little bit so that we can take care of some of our chances.”

The Big Green will hit the road to next face Harvard on Saturday, which has not won a single game this season. Gaining points in Dartmouth’s next three games to push up the tight Ivy League ladder is critical in order for the Big Green to have a shot at the conference title.