September 19, 2016

Nor'easter News - Week 3

By Henry Loughlin

Recap of the Week

As of Sunday evening, there were still 16 perfect, unbeaten and untied, squads out there. In addition to the presence of numerous teams with strong records, there have been some surprises as well. Who would have guessed, for example, that Clark would be 6-0-0 after winning exactly that many games last year, or that Keene State (4-1-0) would beat Wheaton 6-1? Certainly not I, and if you claim that you did in fact believe either of those things, then I simply don’t believe you.

As the number of games played increases, the probability that a given team stays perfect will inevitably decrease, so the chances that 16 teams make it to the end of October with no losses and no ties is virtually zero. However, what isn’t debatable is that there are a number of teams with strong conference title and NCAA bid cases at this point.

Impressions

In last week’s “Upcoming Game of the Week,” Amherst (3-0-1) and Middlebury (2-0-1) fought to a 1-1 draw. Playing in Vermont under clear skies, the Lord Jeffs opened the scoring in the 33rd minute through midfielder Andrew Orozco, whose header found the net to given the visitors the advantage. Yet while Amherst has made a hallmark of making solitary goals stand up, the Panthers hit back just over 3 minutes later through striker Greg Conrad. Despite a plethora of chances down the stretch, the squads were forced to settle for a stalemate. Given that these two have been pegged by many to be the consensus co-favorites for the NESCAC title, this matchup did nothing to separate the two sides, and perhaps furthering the notion that the conference is wide open.

Mass-Boston continues to roll, improving to 6-0-0 with a thumping road victory over Plymouth State. The Beacons boast an impressive goal differential of 22-2, and have started the season very well thus far. Next month may well prove tougher for Mass-Boston, however, as the Beacons travel to NEWMAC powers Babson and MIT, as well as LEC rivals Eastern Connecticut, and Keene State, who, at 4-1-0, is having a resurgent season. If the Beacons can emerge from October unscathed, then they’ll have a great chance of improving on last year’s NCAA 1st Round appearance.

As far as competitive, wide-open conferences go, the NEWMAC is exactly that. As of Sunday evening, Clark, Coast Guard (5-0-1), and Springfield (5-0-1) had yet to lose a game, while MIT (4-1-0) and WPI (4-1-1) both had just one loss to their names - that’s five squads with a combined total of two losses. MIT has rebounded nicely from being upset by Newbury, while Clark won at WPI in overtime just 3 days after the hosts had managed a competitive 0-0 draw with Brandeis. And while all of the teams mentioned definitely have a chance at the NEWMAC title, undoubtedly the biggest surprise in that group is Clark, for reasons mentioned above. In addition to visiting defending MASCAC Champion Bridgewater State on Wednesday, Clark faces a tough October, having to travel to Babson, Brandeis, and Wheaton while hosting MIT. However, based on what we’ve seen so far, they have as good of a chance as any team to take the conference crown that few would have pegged them for at the start of the year.

Speaking of Babson, the Beavers endured a rough week. Just eight days removed from a momentous win over Brandeis, Babson went winless in three games over the past week to sit at 2-4-1. First, the Beavers had to settle for a 0-0 draw at Fitchburg State last Wednesday, despite dominating the statistics and having a shot cleared off the line late in 2OT. Saturday, Babson fell at home to Coast Guard, as the visitors scored at the end of each half, and then lost at Williams on Sunday in a game where midfielder Noah Parker had his 90th minute penalty saved by Ephs goalkeeper Christian Alcorn. I had expected Babson to take the momentum from the Brandeis game and reel off some wins, but in fact the opposite happened, showing just how unpredictable the game of soccer can be.

Now, a look at the CCC. Perhaps the team most exceeding expectations this year is Endicott. The Gulls were expect to come back to Earth this year after a landmark season last year in which they reached both the CCC and ECAC finals, but have instead started 4-1-1 as of Sunday evening, including a win over Tufts and a highly-credible 1-1 draw at Williams. The Gulls do battle with Trinity on Monday night and host Roger Williams this weekend, neither of which will be easy, but they have to be considered among the contenders for the CCC title.

A few miles away, Gordon is also sitting at 4-1-1, having pulled off a big win Wednesday by taking down Tufts 1-0 at home. In that game, goalkeeper Josh Spoonhour became the man of the hour in the last minute, as he made a fantastic save from a bullet header from Tufts center back Daniel Sullivan, preserving the victory and giving Gordon its biggest win of the year so far.

Upcoming Games of the Week

Normally, I choose one matchup to profile. This time, however, I simply couldn’t decide between these two games, and, thus, decided to list them both.

Amherst vs. Williams

As two of the top liberal arts colleges in the country in the same state, the relationship between these Western Massachusetts schools is well-documented. And while perhaps the rivalry on the gridiron is the most-watched contest between these two schools, the fact that both men’s soccer squads have been national powerhouses in recent years has made the pitch edition of Amherst vs. Williams a spectacle in its own right.

In 2012, the teams battled to a scoreless draw in Amherst, before the Lord Jeffs downed the Ephs in Williamstown for the NESCAC title. Two weeks later, the squads squared off in the Elite 8, a game which was won by Williams on penalty kicks after host Amherst had hit the woodwork 5 times. The next year produced more of the same: Amherst again beat Williams in the NESCAC final before losing to the Ephs in the Elite 8 at home. The Lord Jeffs exacted a modicum of revenge the next season, thumping its rival 4-1 at home in 2014, before picking up an exciting road victory last season when striker Greg Singer’s 110th minute winner gave Amherst - who went on to win the NCAA Division III Championship - a 2OT victory that was as sweet as they come.

Going into this year’s contest in Amherst, both teams are unbeaten, each with just 1 tie to its name: Amherst (3-0-1) drew 1-1 on the road at Middlebury, while the match between host Williams (4-0-1) and Endicott finished with an identical score line. The Lord Jeffs lost the talents of forward Nico Pascual-Leone, goalkeeper Thomas Bull, and center forward Singer to graduation, but return plenty of firepower elsewhere. The Ephs, meanwhile, have rebounded nicely from a tough past couple of years, showing signs of progress in their second season under head coach Erin Sullivan - a Williams alum who was the goalkeeper for the 1995 NCAA Division III Champion squad. And while Amherst may have the inherent advantage as the host, the past few years have shown that Williams can never be counted out in this fixture, making for an incredibly compelling game.

Brandeis vs. Tufts

While Amherst vs. Williams is rich with history, Brandeis vs. Tufts is fast becoming a can’t-miss fixture. Less than 10 miles apart, these two Boston area schools have emerged as New England regional powers, and both are members of extremely competitive conferences: Brandeis the UAA, and Tufts the NESCAC. Moreover, both teams have won national titles, Brandeis in 1976, Tufts in 2014, and have enjoyed resurgences in recent years. They might not be conference foes, but Brandeis and Tufts has become as competitive of a game as you’ll find in New England.

2013 saw the two teams play for the first time in recent memory. In that fixture, host Tufts downed the Judges, 2-0, in a compelling afternoon contest where the Jumbos dominated. The next year, Brandeis returned the favor at home under the lights, handing Tufts, who went on to win the NCAA Division III Championship, one of its two losses on the year by scoring twice in the last 12 minutes. Having won the 2014 national title, the defending champion and No. 1 ranked Jumbos were 5-0 before Brandeis came to town and spoiled Tufts’ perfect record, winning 1-0 in Somerville on a goal from forward Zach Vieira.

Given that the pair reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last year, expectations are naturally high in both camps. However, both have had their ups and downs so far this season: Coming off a win over Elite 8 squad Haverford, Brandeis (3-1-1) fell at Babson and was held by WPI within the space of a week, while Tufts (2-2-1) started 0-2-1, losing to CCC squads Endicott and Gordon and tying Colby before downing Bates and Plymouth State at home. Brandeis will be looking to maintain its excellent home record, going 44-3-2 in Waltham since the start of the 2012 season, while the visiting Jumbos will be desperate to exact revenge for a pair of painful defeats to the Judges. And while there are many uncertainties ahead, one thing is for certain: these 2 teams won’t need any extra motivation for this weekend’s under the lights matchup.

 


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Nor'easter News

 

Nor'easter News provides coverage of Division III men's soccer throughout the New England region, home to the NESCAC, one of the nation's strongest and deepest conferences, as well as the NEWMAC, CCC, LEC and others. Each week the more significant results of the previous week are discussed, along with impressions and analysis, followed by the selection of a game to keep an eye on in the week ahead.

Columnist

Henry Loughlin

Henry Loughlin is a Brandeis University graduate (2014, Politics & American Studies) and has enjoyed watching Division III soccer for the past six years as a student and alumnus. Though a writer by trade, his interest in numbers and statistical analysis makes soccer writing and commentary a favorite pastime. [see full bio]

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