December 6, 2014

Tufts wins the men's title!

More news about: Tufts men's team

By Christan Shirk

Cover Photo by Matthew S. Hicks, MSH Photography


Tufts won their first ever soccer national title in Kansas City, MO.
Photo by Kelvin Ma/Tufts University

Division III has a new men’s champion as Tufts won their first ever title with a 4-2 victory over Wheaton (Ill.).

D3soccer's NCAA Tournament Central

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Tufts’ knack for getting off to quick starts in the tournament, including scoring in the first four minutes in three of their five previous games, looked to be repeating itself yet again when a slight hesitation by a Wheaton defender 50 seconds into the title game allowed Gus Santos to receive the ball behind the defense on the left side in the area. Another dream start like against Messiah in the quarterfinals beckoned, but Santos’ shot was tame and easily saved. Four minutes later a Tufts corner kick driven into the six-yard box was not immediately dealt with, but after an anxious second or two that surely felt like an eternity for the Wheaton fans, the loose ball was cleared from the area.

As more minutes ticked off the clock, Wheaton started to find their feet and was winning the midfield battle, something no team had managed against the Jumbos in the NCAA tournament. They worked the ball nicely in tight spaces around the top of the box in the 11th minute, but, as would be a reoccurring theme, the Thunder couldn’t find anyone free for a shot as Tufts defended with numbers. But Tufts’ goalkeeper needed to be alert a couple minutes later when Jordan Golz’s volley from the left edge of the area was goal-bound.

As Wheaton was establishing an advantage in possession, it was Tufts who was creating the more dangerous chances and senior Gus Santos was presented with a golden opportunity to try to put the Tufts in front in the thirteenth minute when a crossing pass found him wide open on the left side in the box, but it went begging when he couldn’t control the ball. Two minutes later senior Peter Lee-Kramer did put the ball in the net for the Tufts, but the tally was called off because a Wheaton defender had been fouled to free the ball for Kramer.

Senior Noah Anthony had two goals for Wheaton.
Michael Hudson Photography

Minutes later after the quick Marshall Hollingsworth could only be slowed by a foul, Noah Anthony nearly scored with a low curling shot from 25 yards out off the restart, but Scott Greenwood got just enough extension to push the ball wide left and in short order Greenwood needed to produce another quality save to keep a Stephen Golz effort out. The next minute saw the Jumbos trapped in their own box, but the Thunder barrage didn’t yield another quality look at goal and ended with a Hollingsworth effort high and wide. When Tufts were finally able to get out of their own half, Jason Kayne sent a dangerous cross into the area from the left but Santos’s header went wide as he and defender Jon Clark collided in pursuit of the ball with both needing attention from the trainers and Santos missing the remainder of the half.

The importance of the game and what was at stake was showing as both teams demonstrated their commitment to the cause with some aggressive challenges and hard fouls. Wheaton’s quality midfield play was paired with a seeming lack of ideas in the offensive third. In the other direction, Tufts’ urgency in attack seemed at times to border on impatience and imprudence, but their approach had yielded positive results throughout the tournament and even with fewer forays than their counterparts they were unnerving the Thunder defenders.

However, it was a free kick, not a counter attack, that finally broke the deadlock in Tufts’ favor in 28th minute. Rui Pinheiro’s re-start from the left corner was sent to the near post where it was too easy for Maxime Hoppenot to shield the keeper and get the slightest of touches to keep the ball moving across the face of goal. Lee-Kramer was quickest to ball and this time his rip into the back of the net would stand to give Tufts the opening goal in all six of their tournament games.

Wheaton's senior forward Adam Blackman was a handful for Tufts' defenders.
Michael Hudson Photography

Over the next several minutes, Wheaton was successful advancing the ball down the right side with Adam Blackman getting past his defender several times, but either a second defender came to close him down or the center of the area was too congested for him to find an open teammate. Finally, Stephen Golz did well to receive and control a centering pass despite being double teamed, but there simply was no time or space to turn for a look at goal.

As Wheaton continued to struggle to unlock the Tuft’s defense, it became increasingly crucial not to concede a second, but that’s exactly what happened when Matt Zinner cut into the box from the right and won a penalty kick for the Jumbos when he was unnecessarily bodied off the ball after slipping by his first defender. Nathan Majumder placed his shot low and to the left with the keeper diving in the opposite direction giving Tufts a daunting two-goal advantage seven and a half minutes before halftime.

Minutes later Monil Patel worked free for a header in the area but his effort was weak as if he thought he was being whistled for offside. Wheaton continued to advance the ball into their attacking third with regularity, but without a shot on goal to show for it in the final minutes of the half until a last-second long range service into the box actually required a save to keep it from sneaking under the crossbar. The 2-0 halftime lead somehow seemed both fair and unfair at the same time as Wheaton played well between 18’s and was certainly not being outplayed on the whole, but inside the areas Tufts was both more resolute defending and more dangerous attacking. Given that both goals seemed avoidable with better, smarter defensive play, the Thunder mostly had themselves to blame for the hole they found themselves in.

Tufts' senior Maxime Hoppenot fights for control against Wheaton.
Michael Hudson Photography

The first dangerous chance of the second half was Hoppenot’s, but his finishing failed him after he eluded his defender at the top of the box and bore down on goal in the 49th minute. But it did result in a corner kick and an awkward, unintentional handball by a Wheaton defender under no pressure handed Tufts a penalty kick. Any chance of Wheaton overturning the two-goal halftime deficit seemed lost when Santos buried his shot high and to the right to build a three-goal lead that surely would prove to be insurmountable.

That perspective, however, would start to change just four minutes later when Tuft’s goalkeeper returned the favor of an unearned penalty kick when he unnecessarily pushed Jordan Golz after the forward’s touch had already pushed the ball beyond his reach for what would have been a goal kick. Greenwood was unable to redeem himself for the error in judgment as he dove the wrong way on Noah Anthony’s spot kick to the lower left corner, giving Wheaton hope.

Off the restart, Tufts looked for an immediate response, but Jason Kayne’s header off a centering cross went well high. Wheaton wasted no time putting Tufts on the back foot again, and a free kick served into the box saw Lee-Kramer mis-head the ball deeper into the area creating a nervous moment before the ball found its way over the endline for an apparent corner kick that was called a goal kick.

Clearly energized by their goal, Wheaton’s increased intensity resulted in a string of fouls that let Tufts know the Thunder would not go down without a fight. Tufts, on the other hand, was looking a bit unnerved for the first time in the tournament, and Wheaton looked ready to take advantage. Just four minutes after getting on the board, a chip forward found Blackman near the top of the box and the senior forward shielded off two defenders to chest the ball forward into the box, but he badly misfired on his hurried and perhaps off-balanced shot with only the keeper left to beat and the chance to really change the complexion of the game.

Less than two minutes later, Hollingsworth carried the ball down the left side toward the endline before centering the ball into the six-yard box where Jordan Golz’s redirection was blocked by the keeper and pinged around with five Wheaton players challenging a single defender and the goalkeeper before Anthony was able to poke it home to narrow the game yet again. With a half hour yet to be played and the momentum with the Thunder, Tufts’ 3-0 lead just 10 minutes earlier not only no longer seemed insurmountable, but seemed likely to fall.

Nerves might have been showing minutes later when Tufts’ defender Matt Zinner misplayed a ball that Anthony would have gathered for a shot on goal had Greenwood not been so quick off his line to cover the ball. The Tufts’ keeper added to his highlight reel a minute later with a kick save to thwart Jordan Golz who had quickly turned and shot off Hollingsworth’s touch forward. The ensuing corner kick resulted in a close range effort by Elliot Borge that was blocked.

That seemed to bring to an end the Thunder onslaught that probably felt a lot longer for Tufts than the ten minutes is really was. Despite taking their lumps, the Jumbos still held the lead as they started to push back. Wheaton had been playing a very high defensive line which was becoming increasingly risky as Tufts regained their balance, but the Thunder were still chasing the game and taking risks was hardly an option if they wanted to go after the equalizer.

As the game reverted to a more even back-and-forth duel again with a Tufts’ insurance goal seeming as likely as a Wheaton equalizer, the Thunder increasingly resorted to long services into the box looking for the head of one of the Golz brothers. This more direct approach had played a role in their resurgence, but now that it seemed to be their only plan of attack, its effectiveness seemed inversely proportional to its predictability.

Tufts chance at an insurance goal came in the 75th minute when Kayne won the ball from a Wheaton defender and took advantage of some confusion on the part of the defense to race into the area, but rather than take the shot he squared the ball to Majumder who shot high after working for a better angle with Wheaton’s Matt Paprocki coming off his line. That sequence jump started Tufts’ best spell of possession since the early minutes of the half. Seven minutes later a very similar scenario unfolded again. Kayne timed his run into space just right to avoid being offside as he collected the through ball and raced into the area, and rather than take the shot that seemed begging to be taken, he again found Majumder to his right who slotted the ball past the charging keeper and inside the near post for the 4-2 lead with 8:41 left on the clock.

Tufts wasn’t about to take their foot off the gas this time as they seemed to have done after taking their 3-0 lead, and with the clock ticking down to five minutes, their pressure led to the red card ejection of Wheaton defender Reed Bartley who, after getting beaten by Hoppenot, pulled down the senior co-captain 25 yard out when it appeared he’d be in alone on goal. Hoppenot almost added insult to injury a minute later when he did get one-on-one with the keeper, but hesitated too much before pulling the trigger and Paprocki was able to smother the effort.

Tufts lifts the trophy as the 2014 men's champions.
Michael Hudson Photography

Jordan Golz had one last chance for the Thunder, blazing his shot wide off of a corner kick with 2:30 to play. Both team played until the final whistle with Santos hitting side netting when trying to sneak a shot in at the left post with 10 seconds showing on the clock. Time had run out on Wheaton and Tufts had completed an impressive tournament run to claim their first-ever NCAA men’s soccer title. In the end, the 3-0 hole was too much for Wheaton to climb out of despite a valiant attempt to do so as the Jumbos regained their composure in time to make their lead hold up. The Thunder finish the year with a 22-4-0 record and just short of sending off their outgoing head coach Michael Giuliano with a national title.

With next to no previous tournament experience, Tufts rose to the occasion with a consistently high level of play and work rate across their six games, all away from home. Along the way they dealt No. 1 Messiah just their third tournament loss in 13 years, made perennial heavyweight Ohio Wesleyan look out of their depth, posted four shutouts, and outscored a solid slate of opponents 14 to 3, including 7 to 2 in the Final Four. Tufts finish with a 16-2-4 record and the title “2014 NCAA Division III men’s soccer champions”.

Notes:

• Tufts' 16 wins are the fewest by a champion since 1994 when Bethany finished with a 15-5-4 mark.

• Tufts' six blemishes are the most by a champion since 1998 when Ohio Wesleyan has six losses.

• Tufts' 6 tournament wins en route to the title marks just the third time this has happened, Messiah accomplishing the feat in 2002 and again last year (technically, Messiah also had six wins in 2008 since the NCAA does not consider a championship final decided via PK’s a tie).

• Tufts' 6 tournament wins without going to overtime a single time is a tournament first.

• Tufts' 6 tournament wins away from home is a tournament first.

• The two goals conceded by Tufts in the final is just the third time a champion allowed more than a single goal in the final, the other two instances being Richard Stockton defeating Redlands 3-2 in 2001 and UNC-Greensboro defeating Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 3-2 in 1983.

No contests today.
No contests today.
No contests today.