Less than a week into October, an Ivy League championship is already at stake for the men’s soccer team on Saturday, when the Tigers (2-5) travel to New Hampshire to take on Dartmouth. The match marks the mere beginning of the Tigers’ demanding Ivy League schedule, but Dartmouth (4-0-4) is undefeated thus far and will likely be one of Princeton’s greatest obstacles on the path to an Ivy League title.
“This is a must-win,” sophomore forward Thomas Sanner said. “We’ve been saying these next two games are going to decide how our season goes. Dartmouth and Brown are perennially the best competition in the Ivy League. It’s always close throughout the Ivy League, but it’s always us, Dartmouth and Brown at the top.”
Princeton’s 2-5 record in September, which included a 1-0 overtime loss last Sunday to Florida Gulf Coast University, means little to the squad now. The rules are simple: win out in the Ivy League and clinch the Ivy League championship — but more importantly, a berth to the NCAA Tournament. Lose or tie any games, and the situation gets complicated. Head coach Jim Barlow ’91 and his team know that September’s games have no bearing on the present, and that their NCAA destiny still fully remains in their control.
“It’s like our record is 0-0 now,” sophomore midfielder Brendan McSherry said. “It doesn’t matter what our record is now. We can still get a spot in the [NCAA] Tournament.”
Dartmouth presents a formidable squad that took Princeton to overtime last year at Roberts Stadium, before junior forward Cameron Porter found the back of the net fewer than two minutes into the golden goal period to give the Tigers the win. But the Big Green’s offense has quickly established its offensive prowess in its opening matches of the season. Junior forward Alex Adelabu and junior midfielder Colin Heffron have combined for 13 points over the course of September. More impressive, however, has been the variety of players who have contributed to Dartmouth’s attack early on: seven different players have accounted for the 12 goals that the Big Green has put up in its first eight contests. Princeton knows that Dartmouth’s versatility and ability to win close matches will make this road match especially tough, but is still confident in its chances.
“Dartmouth is undefeated this year, but they’ve been outshot in all of their games,” Sanner said. “They have a good back eight that stays really compact, and it’s hard to break down. They have two fast forwards up there. We just need to figure out how to break them down. We’ve been pushing to be more competitive, especially in winning one-on-one battles.”
“Dartmouth is always the same, one of the better teams in the Ivy League,” McSherry said. “We have to be ready for transition play; that’s where a lot of their goals come from.”
More important than anything, the Tigers recognize the importance in maintaining a consistent level of play. Barlow and his players all realize the importance in building stability from the streaks of strong performance they sporadically enjoyed during September.
“Pressing high is a key for us,” Sanner said. “We need high pressure, which has been the difference between first and second halves for us so far.”
“Our second halves have tended to be a lot better, in terms of an attacking standpoint,” McSherry said. “One of the things we’ve struggled with is coming out hard from the start. We’ve had some really bad stretches, and some really good stretches. We need to find some consistency. But we’re excited for Dartmouth, we think we’re ready.”
Kickoff from Hanover, N.H., is set for 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.