October 10, 2016

Nor'easter News - Week 6

By Henry Loughlin

Recap of the Week

As October moves into full swing, there have been a number of interesting developments within the New England region. There is still no clear favorite in the NESCAC, where pre-season favorites Amherst and Middlebury have both been upset by Tufts, Williams is making its case to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013, and countless others are in the hunt for spots in the conference tournament. The NEWMAC and CCC are similarly competitive, with Springfield and Babson emerging as the frontrunners in the former and Gordon and Wentworth proving to be the top two sides in the latter. Finally, in the LEC, Mass-Boston continues to stroll, despite enduring two of its biggest challenges to date in the past week. With several teams possessing strong resumes, it will be interesting to see who ends up taking the conference crowns when November rolls around, as any prediction made at this point has an significant chance of being incorrect.

Impressions

In the NESCAC, Tufts (5-3-2 / 3-1-2) ended the week with an emphatic 2-0 win at Middlebury. In circumstances eerily similar to Tufts’ 2014 Elite 8 win over Messiah, the Jumbos took the lead less than a minute into the contest as defender Jackson Najjar headed home following a free kick from midfielder Kevin Halliday. Tufts then bagged a second goal in the 7th minute, as rookie midfielder Zachary Trevorrow put home a close-range finish for a 2-0 lead. And while Middlebury made attempt after attempt to get back into the contest, Tufts was able to hold on for a significant victory on the road - one that will likely do as much for morale as it will for the team’s NCAA hopes. Even so, Tufts still has a number of tests to pass: the Jumbos have a tricky pair of road games next weekend at Connecticut College and Trinity (Conn.), a pair of home contests with Keene State and Williams, and finish the season on the road at Bowdoin. Of those five games, the last two may well be the most difficult, so coach Josh Shapiro will certainly work to instill focus in his squad, which I feel has a significant amount of postseason potential.

Facing just its second deficit of the season against Babson on Wednesday afternoon, Mass-Boston managed to tie the game and get a 1-1 draw on the road. The Beacons had pressured the Beavers extensively, but Babson scored with its first shot, giving the home side a 1-0 lead. Despite wave after wave of attack, it looked as if Babson would hold on for a seismic victory, but the Beacons got the chance they needed in the 85th minute after the Babson goalkeeper picked up a back pass in the box, leading to an indirect kick. From the restart, striker Daniel Morales sent a rocket of a shot into the top corner, putting Mass-Boston on level terms and ensuring that they avoided their second consecutive defeat to Babson in as many years.

While it goes without saying that both teams would’ve liked to win, this was a decent result for the two squads in the long run: Babson (6-4-3) picked up a draw against a highly-ranked opponent, while Mass-Boston (11-0-1) put its 2015 loss to the Beavers behind. Mass-Boston built on the momentum from its late equalizer, beating Mass-Dartmouth 3-2 in an exciting encounter on Saturday evening. The Beacons will certainly be targeted by the opposition in the LEC playoffs, but based on what they’ve done so far they have to be considered the favorites for that crown.

The race for the NEWMAC regular season crown has certainly gotten more and more interesting. While Springfield (11-0-1 / 3-0-1) remained unbeaten with a 2-1 victory on the road at WPI, Babson (6-4-3 / 3-1-0) sent Clark to its second defeat of the season, scoring with 5 seconds left in double overtime to secure the win. And while such a loss would perhaps be understandable if it was due to a deflected shot or other fluky play, Babson scored on a finish following a through-ball, suggesting that Clark was caught playing a high line in a situation where the Cougars should have been much more cautious. Clark (10-2-0 / 2-2-0) will likely have a chance to rectify their defeats in the conference tournament, but the element of game mismanagement will need to be mitigated. As the top two teams in the conference, Springfield and Babson will go head-to-head on Saturday in Western Massachusetts in a game that will likely have significant implications on where the conference tournament is hosted.

In the week since suffering its most emphatic defeat in recent memory, Amherst has responded as you’d expect, going 3-0 and outscoring the opposition 9-0. Showing no signs of a Tufts hangover, the Jeffs downed Bates the following day, before picking up a midweek road win at New England College and capping the week with a 2-0 victory over a Hamilton side which has exceeded expectations. Having lost a significant amount of talent to graduation, some may have been tempted to prematurely written the Jeffs’ obituary as a legitimate contender for the NESCAC title. Yet with a 4-1-1 conference record (9-1-1 overall), there is still a significant amount to play for, and there’s no question that Amherst will be as tough of an opponent as ever when the NESCAC tournament rolls around.

Upcoming Game of the Week: Gordon vs. Wentworth

Much like the aforementioned Springfield vs. Babson game, this match could have significant implications for who gets home-field advantage for the conference tournament. With identical 4-0-1 conference records, Gordon has first place by virtue of a tiebreaker, which just goes to show how thin the margins are at the top of the CCC.

For its part, Gordon (9-1-1) has overcome its early-season lumps, going 7-0 in the past month and - rather fittingly - capping that stretch with two successive 7-0 wins over Salem State and Eastern Nazarene. And though some might argue that the strength of the opposition that Gordon has faced has been less than stellar compared to nationally-ranked squads, Gordon does have a victory over Tufts to its credit, so it’s not exactly as if the squad has been a flat-track bully. Moreover, midfielder Caleb Cole is in an excellent vein of form with 8 goals and 10 assists to his name thus far, and—if all goes well—could steer the Fighting Scots to another NCAA appearance, and perhaps even a chance at bettering its 2nd Round appearance of last year.

Much like Gordon, Wentworth (8-2-4) has only gotten better as the season has progressed. Having started the season 2-2-0, the Leopards are 6-0-4 in their last 10, including an impressive 5-3 win at MIT where forward Nate Martins bagged a hat-trick. Should Wentworth be able to pull off the win on the road, it would be a huge morale boost to the squad, and would go a long way to helping the Leopards lock up home field advantage for the conference playoffs. With a stingy defense and devastating counter attack, no team will want to take Wentworth lightly—and any that does will likely be punished.

 


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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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