September 27, 2016

Nor'easter News - Week 4

By Henry Loughlin

Recap of the Week

With the regular season around halfway complete, the number of teams with perfect records is starting to shrink. Even defending national champion Amherst has a tie against Middlebury to its name, and while the Jeffs were pushed by rival Williams on Saturday, they managed to get things done, winning 4-2. Bates, meanwhile, picked up a big home victory over Wesleyan—a side that shellacked the Bobcats 5-0 last year—and Tufts picked up a 1-0 double overtime win at Brandeis, avenging two consecutive defeats to the Judges.

The NEWMAC and CCC, meanwhile, are wide open conferences, and the top end of both conferences’ standings feature a number of surprise teams. As the season progresses, we’ll likely start to see more and more indications of what teams are really made of, but I think this weekend certainly provided a baseline for expectations.

Impressions

While normal editions of Amherst-Williams tend to be low-scoring, tepid affairs, Saturday’s edition of New England’s premier Division III soccer rivalry turned out to be a goal fest. Amherst grabbed a quick lead through midfielder Jackson Lehnhart just 1:51 into the game, before Williams tied it midway through the half. The hosts retook the lead just before halftime, with the Ephs—as had been par for the course—tying things up again 1:25 into the second half through forward Mohammed Rashid. Though the Ephs had a few chances to get what could’ve been a valuable go-ahead goal following their second equalizer of the match, Amherst pulled away in the last 20 minutes, as Lehnhart got his second of the game, and ran out 4-2 winners on the day. Amherst, the defending national champion, improved to 5-0-1 on the year, while Williams—in its second year under coach Erin Sullivan—dropped to 5-1-1 following the result.

Saturday night, Tufts handed Brandeis its second double-overtime loss of the season, 1-0. In a game which was decided with less than a minute remaining in the second overtime, the stats were relatively even, as the host Judges and Jumbos both notched 14 shots throughout the contest. After starting the season 3-0-0, Brandeis is winless in its last three, going 0-2-1 in that stretch in losses to Babson and the Jumbos and a draw against WPI. Conversely, Tufts won its third on the bounce after starting 0-2-1. Last year, Brandeis beat all three teams 1-0, so perhaps the trio of results is karmic justice for those opponents. Regardless, considering the Judges won 16 games last year—including 4 wins in 2OT—by a single goal, it’s surprising to see them lose such decisions this year. At 3-2-1 and with a full slate of UAA games coming up, the Judges need to get their act together quickly if they want to have a chance at sealing another NCAA berth.

Touted as one of the contenders for the NESCAC title at the beginning of the season, Middlebury sits at 4-0-1 as of this writing, having beaten Bowdoin on Saturday in a game that went to overtime. And while the Panthers aren't a free-scoring side by any means, they have talent at both ends of the field in senior forwards Greg Conrad and Adam Glaser - arguably the best offensive tandem in the league - along with goalkeeper Greg Sydor, who could make a case for being the best netminder in the conference. Middlebury still has a number of tough games on the slate, as October sees it host Tufts, Wesleyan, and Bates before traveling to Williams to finish the regular season, but the Panthers have the potential to win their first conference title since 2010.

Defending LEC Champion Mass-Boston has rolled through the first part of its schedule to an 8-0-0 record, having outscored its opponents 25-2. Most recently, the Beacons defeated Rhode Island College 2-0 in a rematch of last year’s conference final. The second half of this year's slate will likely be more difficult for Mass-Boston, as it travels to Babson, Eastern Connecticut, MIT, and Keene State, so it’s difficult to tell just how strong this team is at this point in the year—at least compared to other New England powers. Either way, given that no LEC opponent has been able to challenge Mass-Boston, it would appear that the Beacons are ready to reclaim their conference crown, and perhaps even advance past the 1st Round of this year’s NCAA Tournament.

A day after losing to its fiercest rivals, Williams traveled to Maine to face fellow conference foe Bates, a team which pulled a 2-1 upset in Williamstown last year. Sunday, however, saw the Ephs exact a measure of revenge, winning 2-0 on the road. The Bobcats, currently 3-3-2, had pulled off somewhat of an upset against Wesleyan earlier in the weekend, so that, combined with the demoralizing nature of Saturday’s loss to Amherst, meant that beating Bates in Lewiston was far from a given for Williams. However, the Ephs have impressed thus far this season, combining pace on the counterattack with defensive solidity—something that Williams lacked last year in crucial moments—and solid midfield play. If what we’ve seen so far is any indication of what’s to come, Williams will be a formidable opponent when the NESCAC tournament rolls around, and the possibility of a second matchup with Amherst with the conference title on the line is very much alive.

Living within a mile of MIT’s Steinbrenner Stadium certainly has its perks: namely, the fact that it allows me to catch a number of the Engineers’ games. Last Wednesday, I got to enjoy an eight-goal thriller between MIT and cross-river foe Wentworth, who defeated the hosts 5-3 behind a hat-trick from sophomore Noah Martins. The Leopards, who sit at 6-2-2, have to be considered one of the contenders for the CCC title alongside Endicott and Gordon, while NEWMAC side MIT, who lost at home to Babson on Saturday, sits at 4-3-0 ahead of Wednesday’s visit of Amherst, a side which is likely to give the Engineers’ the toughest test that they’ve faced this year. And while the Engineers will likely be concerned by their poor home form, going 2-3-0 at Steinbrenner Stadium thus far, the fact that MIT is 2-0-0 on the road will be of some consolation, and could well come in handy should MIT have to travel elsewhere for the NEWMAC tournament.

Upcoming Game of the Week: Clark vs. Springfield

While it might not have followed what most people would assume, Clark and Springfield occupy the top two positions in the NEWMAC. The Cougars are a perfect 8-0-0, while the Pride’s sole blemish is 2-2 tie with Wheaton. Yet while neither has played a particularly difficult slate of games thus far, this contest will certainly give a good indication of where these NEWMAC foes are relative to one another. Should Clark win either this matchup or Wednesday’s test against the University of New England, it will match the Cougars’ best win total since 2009; two wins in two would see them surpass the mark. If Springfield emerges victorious, this will be a big sign that the Pride have the right mindset to repeat their NEWMAC triumph of 2011. The slate gets significantly more difficult for Clark following this test, as the Cougars travel to Babson and Brandeis and host Rivier, Fitchburg State, and MIT in a two-week span before finishing the regular season with a road trip to Wheaton. Springfield, meanwhile, still has to face Babson at home and conference foes WPI, MIT, and Coast Guard on the road. Regardless of how the season plays out beyond Saturday, this game should serve as a competitive, exciting spectacle of potentially what’s to come.

 


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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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