October 23, 2017

Nor'easter News - Week 8

By Henry Loughlin

Recap of the Week

The postseason isn’t quite here yet, but it sure feels like it is getting to be that time of year again. Thankfully, we have just a few more days before conference tournaments kick off. And, since the notable games are summarized below and this week features a longer-than-usual Game of the Week section, I’m keeping this introduction short. Read on!

Impressions

There are generally two directions that a competitive Game of the Week can take: either it’s a high-scoring, pulsating affair punctuated by goals for both sides, or it ends up being a tepid match with defense at the forefront. Saturday’s contest between Connecticut College and Bowdoin ended up being the latter as, despite chances for both sides, the game ended up as a 0-0 draw. Perhaps this was a predictable outcome, as the matchup featured two of the best NESCAC goalkeepers in Stevie van Siclen and A.J. Marcucci, both of whom kept clean sheets on Saturday. Things don’t get easier for either side, as Bowdoin travels to Tufts for a Tuesday afternoon kickoff (which there’s more than enough text about below), while Conn. will do battle with Wesleyan on Wednesday.

In NEWMAC action, Springfield failed to win for the first time this fall as it was held by WPI on the road on Saturday night. In another 0-0 match, the visiting Pride generated more shots than their hosts but couldn’t solve the Engineers’ defense. Both teams are 5-0-1 in the conference, meaning that hosting rights for the NEWMAC tournament are still up in the air; next Saturday, Springfield will close the regular season at Wheaton (Mass.), while WPI travels to Clark. Though the Pride’s 15-0-1 overall mark is superior to WPI’s 10-4-1 record, WPI is undoubtedly battle-tested – as the Engineers have played out-of-conference New England regional contenders like Wesleyan, Brandeis, and Endicott. Even so, Springfield’s 0.28 GAA is fifth in Division III, so the Pride will feel equally confident that it can grind out wins versus just about anyone.

Since losing to Amherst, Tufts has responded in impressive fashion, reeling off six straight shutout victories in a row to improve to 12-1-1 -- the latest of which was a 1-0 triumph at NESCAC rival Williams. In a tight, cagey game that didn’t feature many scoring chances for either team, a goal midway through the first half from the Jumbos’ Zach Lane was all that separated the two sides. Williams -- who had defeated Hamilton and Babson earlier in the week -- fell for just the second time this year, putting it at 8-2-4 at the time of writing.

The race for the CCC regular-season crown just got a bit more interesting, as the University of New England upset conference-leading Endicott 1-0 at home on Saturday. Meanwhile, defending champion Western New England took the Gulls’ top spot with a victory at Curry, putting the Golden Bears in pole position to host the CCC tournament (which begins this weekend). Both WNE and Endicott will end the regular season Tuesday on the road, as WNE travels to Gordon while Endicott heads to Salve Regina. The two teams, who tied 1-1 in the regular season, feature differing strengths; WNE”s offense has been paced by Troy Remillard, whose 21 goals (2nd in Division III) have helped the Golden Bears to an 11-5-1 record, while the Gulls’ defense and 0.72 GAA has backstopped Endicott to a 9-4-3 mark. And, though much remains to be decided between now and the CCC Championship on Nov. 4, it seems fairly plausible that one of these two teams could end up with the conference title when all is said and done.

Upcoming Game of the Week: Tufts vs. Bowdoin

Another week, another NESCAC game. While I promise I don’t play favorites in terms of conferences, it is a testament to the competitiveness of the league that all but one Game of the Week features has involved NESCAC sides. This week, we have two familiar names: Tufts and Bowdoin.

This fixture might not have the history or emotion of Amherst vs. Williams, but it has quickly become one of the preeminent matchups in the NESCAC. And, though it’s very easy to overhype particular games, this one has lived up to billing in recent years. With that said, it’s worth recapping the (ample) history that has surrounded Tufts-Bowdoin games in the last five years.

Back in 2012, the then-upstart Jumbos -- who would go on to qualify for their first NCAA tournament in quite some time -- defeated the visiting Polar Bears, 2-1 in the regular-season finale. Three days later yielded a similar outcome, as Tufts defeated Bowdoin at home, this time by a more dominant score line of 3-0.

The next year, in 2013, Tufts again beat Bowdoin in the regular-season finale, 1-0, before bowing out on penalty kicks in the NESCAC quarters after a 2-2 draw in a game that featured four goals in the final 20 minutes of regulation, including the equalizer by the Jumbos with 37 seconds left.

2014 saw the visiting Jumbos jump out to a 2-0 halftime lead at Bowdoin, making it look like the Jumbos would exact some revenge for the previous year’s heartbreak. The Polar Bears had other ideas, though, as Bowdoin scored twice in the last 20 minutes to secure a highly-credible 2-2 draw. Both teams would have postseasons to remember, as Bowdoin won its first NESCAC title and advanced to the 2nd Round of NCAAs before falling to Brandeis, 1-0. Tufts, meanwhile, embarked on an improbable run to its first national championship, finishing the season with a 4-2 victory over Wheaton (IL) in the title game.

The only scoreless draw in this fixture came in the 2015 season, as the two sides battled to a 0-0 regular season tie. Unfortunately for Tufts, the script followed a similar course, as Bowdoin -- en route to its second NESCAC title in as many years -- knocked out the host Jumbos in the NESCAC quarters, 1-0.

Last year, Tufts clinched its second national title in three years with a 1-0 2OT victory over Calvin. Yet the road to the triumph (much less the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament) was far from guaranteed, as the Jumbos fell twice in four days -- once home, once away -- to Bowdoin by identical 2-1 score lines. Ultimately, Tufts got an at-large bid while Bowdoin -- who lost in the NESCAC semifinals to Amherst -- did not, exemplifying that the winner of the proverbial battle(s) doesn’t always win the war.

This year’s edition should be similarly competitive, as NESCAC tournament hosting rights are on the line. Tufts has rolled through the regular season to a record of 12-1-1 (7-1-1 in conference), only giving up one goal in the process. Three points back in the conference standings (6-2-1 in the NESCAC) and 10-3-1 overall, Bowdoin is having its best regular season since 2010, the year the Polar Bears advanced to the Final 4 before falling to Lynchburg in an OT heartbreaker, 2-1. A draw would be enough for Tufts to clinch hosting rights (based on the head-to-head tiebreaker), while the Polar Bears need to win to bring the NESCAC tournament to Brunswick for the first time since that memorable 2010 campaign.

Though not an avid follower of D3 soccer at the time, I remember seeing Bowdoin’s 2-1 OT win over Middlebury in the Elite 8, and recall virtually the entire town of Brunswick rushing the field after the winner was scored -- a scene which exemplified the passion that accompanies Bowdoin soccer. Having watched a number of Tufts games over the past few years, I’ve seen similar spirit from Jumbos supporters. Yet, while this regular season matchup would only serve as a precursor to any potential postseason clash, these are two teams who have the potential to make runs deep into November and December. For one of them, that run could ultimately end in celebration on the final day of the season.

 


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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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