Men’s Soccer: Ivy League Preview
The Cornell Men’s Soccer team has witnessed its fair share of frustration over the past few seasons. Since winning the Ivy League title in 2012, the team has experienced very little success, as they’ve struggled to threaten the top teams in the conference. The 2012 championship was followed by sixth, fourth, and sixth place finishes, respectively. However, with big changes in 2016, they have the potential to launch a serious title bid.
The most notable change to the team from 2015 is the composition of the coaching staff. At the end of last year, Cornell welcomed John Smith as their new head coach, who was previously an assistant at Stanford — last year’s national champions. Coach Smith brings a wealth of relevant experience to the team, having tasted success as a coach and player at the collegiate level. Perhaps most importantly, he has proven that not only does he have an eye for talent, but he also knows how to guide player development at this level of the game. Given his background, it will be interesting to see how Coach Smith utilizes the nine freshmen on the squad for the remainder of the season.
Besides the new class and coaching staff, there haven’t been many changes to the team, which is mainly because there was only one senior, Ben Feldman, on the squad last year. Feldman, in fact, didn’t contribute on the pitch in 2015 due to injury, so the Big Red are in a rare situation where they completely carried over their starting 11. However, based on the evidence so far, the freshmen are definitely giving Coach Smith a team selection headache.
0-8-2 not the whole story
Another noticeable change this season is the increased difficulty of Cornell’s non-conference schedule. Leading up to Ivy League action, the team played nine matches, losing seven, and drawing two. Last weekend, they lost their opening Ivy game against Penn in a close overtime encounter. The numbers don’t look good at first glance, but this opening set of fixtures is a significant improvement from past preseasons. Four of the eight losses came against ranked opponents — No. 14 Connecticut, No. 20 American, No. 3 Syracuse, and No. 16 Virginia. The squad also had a run of six games in the span of 11 days. Looking beyond the numbers and into the team’s actual performance, this group has looked confident in attack — an area in which they consistently struggled last season.
Positive signs from the freshmen
Surprisingly, it’s two freshmen that lead the Big Red in scoring. George Pedlow and Brady Dickens have contributed two goals each and have consistently threatening whenever given the opportunity from Coach Smith to spearhead the Cornell attack. The contribution from the freshmen runs deep, with defenders Austin Ashley and Riley Adams also displaying impressive shifts. In addition, Christophe Gerlach seems to have solidified his spot in the midfield. Between the posts, Ryan Shellow has shown that he can provide a safe pair of hands, having made 42 saves in seven games with an astonishing 13 coming against Syracuse alone.
Given the major impact of freshmen this season, Coach Smith has a good problem on his hands. The team possesses incredible depth this season, as every section of the pitch is well-covered with multiple options for each position. Additionally, the Cornell attack has been more fluid and decentralized than recent years. Goals have been coming from different players, unlike past seasons, where the burden of scoring fell on just a chosen few. Chances are being created at a higher rate, although finishing those opportunities in the final third still needs some work. The back five were exposed in games against Virginia, Syracuse, and American — all ranked oppositions — but seems generally more stable and confident than before.
This is the lineup that we’re most likely going to see moving into Ivy League action this season:
What to expect
Coach Smith has reiterated that the objective for his first season in charge is not based on numbers. Rather, he wants to establish the right culture within the squad that can help the team in the long-term. Although there were encouraging signs during the preseason, the Big Red are still winless. Last week, they got off to a shaky start in the Ivy League, losing 2-1 at home to Penn in a game that they could have clinched before it even went to overtime. If they want to mount a serious challenge for the Ivy title, they need to be more clinical in attack. However, from what we’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if they finish comfortably in the top half of the standings. As Coach Smith has rightly pointed out, results can temporarily take a backseat if it means establishing a solid foundation for long-term success.