December 3, 2016

Tufts are men's champions . . . again!

By Ryan Harmanis

Cover photo credit: Dave Hilbert, d3photography.com

2016 D-III Men's Soccer Champions: Tufts
Dave Hilbert, d3photography.com

In the 2016 men’s championship game, Tufts scored a golden goal in double overtime to beat Calvin. In a tight game fought in the midfield and controlled by both defenses, Tufts junior Tyler Kulcsar scored the game winner off a corner kick from Kevin Halliday as the Jumbos captured their second title in three years.

First Half

The game opened with each team trying to impose its style. Calvin likes to play quick, one-touch passes through the midfield, then get the ball forward to their wingers to attack the end line. One such attack led to a corner kick in the third minute. Calvin had an open header, but a Tufts defender blocked it with his back turned. The ball fell to Calvin sophomore Bobby McCaw, but he couldn’t get any power behind a second header, which went straight to Tufts goalkeeper Scott Greenwood.

In the early stages, Tufts chose to bypass its midfield and play vertical passes, often trying to find Gaston Becherano in space. He succeeded in pulling the Calvin centerbacks out of position a few times, but Tufts was not getting enough men forward with sustained pressure. After the teams exchanged tame shots, Tufts defender Conor Coleman had the Jumbos first good look of the game. Coleman out jumped his man on a corner kick, but he drilled a header straight at Calvin keeper Nate Van Ryn.

Tufts maintained pressure through the midpoint of the first half. The Jumbos let Calvin’s backs have possession, but pounced when the Knights tried to pass the ball into midfield. This led to a Calvin turnover and a quick Tufts counterattack, but Kevin Halliday fired over the goal from a tough angle.

Calvin winger Mitch Stark causes so many problems for defenses, and Tufts took a physical approach to defending him early on. The Knights simply went the other way, and their best chance of the half came from Jacob Witte on the left side. Tufts tried to play a long pass forward, but the ball hit the referee and bounced straight to a Calvin player. The Knights broke with speed, and Witte played a great pass to Stephan Hooker, who had the goal at his mercy from just six yards out. Greenwood was in great position, however, and made the save to keep the game 0-0. 

Calvin took control from there, with Isky Van Doorne pulling the strings in midfield. With Tufts focused on Stark, Witte and substitute Ian Adams stepped up and ran at the Tufts defense time and again. Adams, in particular, put in three or four dangerous crosses from the left side. But each time, a Tufts defender was there to clear. Tufts would have one final chance at the other end, with Brett Rojas firing from distance, but Van Ryn handled a short hop well and we entered the half scoreless. Calvin edged the first half and probably should have taken the lead, but the defenses had the upper hand.

Second Half

The second half began a little more open. Tufts adjusted their style, mimicking Calvin with short passes in the midfield, and pinned Calvin in their own end early on. The next ten minutes devolved into a midfield battle, aptly called a “quagmire” by the announcers, and neither team could put together an attack of note. In a scary moment, Tufts’ Coleman was second to an aerial challenge and accidentally headed McCaw, but luckily the sophomore was able to continue playing.

In the 58th minute, Calvin had their best chance yet. Van Doorne was the danger man yet again, picking up the ball and driving through the heart of midfield. He drew three Tufts defenders and held the ball until the last second before shifting it to a wide-open Stark on the left side. The junior teed up and curled a shot just past Greenwood’s back post. The Jumbos’ keeper probably had it covered, but Calvin was threatening.

Tufts came back the other way a few minutes later, and centerback Dan Sullivan had a free header on a corner kick. He didn’t account for his own teammate, though, who blocked the ball over the net for the Calvin defense. Tufts senior Nathan Majumder then began to make his presence felt, as he started to find space against a tiring Calvin defense. With 23 minutes to go, Majumder showed some nifty footwork in the left corner to get free and cut the ball back to Halliday at the edge of the box. Halliday fired a shot, but it curled into the grateful hands of Van Ryn.

Heading toward the final fifteen minutes, Calvin reasserted control. Tufts fell asleep on a throw-in, allowing McCaw to get the ball behind the defense on the end line. He waited, and waited, for teammates to crash the box, but no help came, and Tufts blocked his late cross out for a corner. From there, Calvin would have its best chance of the game. Jacob Lyon got free on the backside and looped a header off the crossbar. With the Tufts defense frozen, the ball ricocheted to All-American Trent Vegter, who scored on a corner last week to eliminate Messiah. This time, though, Vegter headed the ball back across the goal instead of toward it, and Matt Hinds was unable to redirect it into the net.

As the clock ticked toward overtime, Calvin continued to funnel the ball wide. Alternating attacks from Witte on the right and Adams on the left, the Knights could not pick the lock on the Tufts defense, for two reasons. First, Sullivan and Coleman kept Tufts’ defense in great position and cleared ball after ball. Second, Calvin was not committing enough men to the box. Even when Adams, Witte, or Stark beat their man, they were trying to find one or two Calvin players among seven or eight Jumbos. With those poor odds, Calvin couldn’t get on the end of anything.

Still, the Knights had a chance to win it late. After Tufts cleared a corner, a defender under a Calvin player just outside the box. The referee awarded Calvin a free kick twenty yards out, similar to where they scored on Brandeis Saturday afternoon. Stephan Hooker stepped up, and again put a clean shot on target. But he couldn’t quite find the corner, and Greenwood flew across his net to make a great save.

With four minutes to go, Tufts had a final chance to end things in regulation. Majumder got on the ball in the box, and turned two Calvin defenders to get free. His cross was deflected and fell right to Halliday, who saw his shot blocked out for a corner. But Calvin cleared and blocked a follow-up shot, and we headed to overtime.

Overtime

The first of two 10-minute golden-goal periods began as the game ended, in a midfield battle. Both teams looked exhausted after two full games in only 24 hours, and neither could connect passes. The lone exception was Calvin’s Van Doorne, who was the standout attacking player on the day. The senior was everywhere, switching the field, playing incisive passes, and beating players with quick feet. He put Calvin wingers in great positions twice in the first overtime, but each time Tufts closed off the attack.

Knowing a mistake could end the game, both defenses took a no-nonsense approach. “When in doubt, kick it out,” as they say, and Tufts in particular was trying to keep the ball deep in Calvin’s end. One long ball found its way to Kevin Halliday, who put in a wonderful cross toward the back post. Zach Lane just got to the ball, but was forced to try a difficult volley from a tight angle. He made only weak contact at Van Ryn, but Tufts was beginning to carve out chances.

And the Jumbos almost ended it at the start of the second overtime. Gavin Tasker got behind the Calvin defense and put a cross into the box, and two Jumbos had the ball at their feet on the penalty spot. Neither could get a shot off, though, and Calvin eventually crowded them off the ball.
But Tasker had found a rhythm. Getting the ball back on the left wing, he cut inside and unleashed a shot toward the back post. It may not have troubled Van Ryn, but it took a nasty deflection off a Calvin defender and redirected toward the front post. It was probably going wide, but Van Ryn couldn’t get there in time to catch it and pushed the ball out for a corner kick in the 104th minute. 

All day, Tufts had served inswinging corners from the left side. But each had too much air under it, and Van Ryn caught them or punched away with relative ease. This time, Kevin Halliday hit a lower, driven ball in between the six-yard box and the penalty spot. With Van Ryn on his line and the Calvin defense focused on Sullivan and Coleman, Tyler Kulcsar came flying through the center of the box. Instead of diving to head the ball, the junior jumped and redirected it with the outside of his right foot into the net. As the magnitude of the goal set in, Tufts celebrated their second national championship wildly. Either team would have been a worthy winner, but the Jumbos’ knack for finding a way in big games came through in the end.

 

Calvin finishes the season with a record of 22-3-0, and have been NCAA runners-up in 2016, 2011, and 2009. Tufts wins the national championship at 15-5-2, capping a three-year run that includes two national titles (2016 and 2014), one Sweet Sixteen (2015), and an incredible 14-1-0 record in NCAA play.

 


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