With only one non-conference game remaining in the regular season, the men’s soccer team descends into the heart of Ivy League competition this Saturday, when the Tigers will host Columbia in their Ivy home opener. Princeton (4-6-1 overall, 1-0-1 Ivy League) looks to shake off its 2-0 defeat at St. John’s (7-5-1, 0-3-1 Big East) on Tuesday night, as it hopes to stay undefeated in the league and keep its chances of an Ivy League title alive. However, the Tigers’ 0-0 draw at Brown last weekend has heightened the importance of getting a win at home this weekend.
“Saturday is a must-win game, considering it’s our home Ivy opener and we tied our last conference game,” sophomore forward Nico Hurtado said. “We’re two points behind the league-leader, Yale, right now, so we can’t settle for another tie.”
After starting off with an impressive 5-2 in September, Columbia has struggled to find a win in October. The Lions (5-3-2, 0-0-2) have tied Brown (3-5-3, 0-0-2) and Penn (4-6-1, 1-0-1) in their first two Ivy matches and are coming off a 4-0 loss to Connecticut on Tuesday night. Nevertheless, the Tigers remember the hard-fought battle they had at Columbia last season, a match that resulted in a scoreless tie. This will not be a match taken lightly.
“Columbia is tough,” Hurtado said. “They’re one of the few Ivy League teams that wants to possess the ball and pass it around like we do. Their team isn’t physically as big as traditional Ivy teams, so they’re similar in style to us.”
The outcome of Saturday’s matchup will largely be decided by whether the Tigers’ offense can pull together and outplay Columbia’s notoriously tough defense. Princeton’s streaky scoring patterns will have to find consistency against sophomore goalkeeper Kyle Jackson, who has given up just 11 goals in 10 games so far. Princeton understands the need for scoring opportunities on Saturday afternoon.
“Our focus needs to be on being sharper in our plays in the last third, because we haven’t scored in the last two games,” Hurtado said. “Finishing is a big priority this week. At St. John’s, we weren’t getting forward quickly enough and weren’t getting enough numbers in the box. We lost because we started out so slowly, and we need to make sure we come out hard from the beginning and not give up an early goal.”
But the Tigers can find some comfort in the fact that they are playing at home: Princeton has scored six of its 13 goals thus far at Roberts Stadium despite the fact that seven of its 11 games so far have been on the road. Despite the necessity of a victory, the Tigers are looking forward to the chance to put away an Ivy opponent in front of the home crowd.
“We know that our backs are against the wall if we don’t win this one,” Hurtado said. “But we don’t feel pressure. We’re comfortable and excited that we’re playing at home. We’ve had a lot more road than home games so far. And we’re feeling good that in the last two Ivy League games, our coach has told us that everybody that started and came off the bench had a good game. We need to stay a balanced team.”
Kickoff is slated for 4 p.m. this Saturday at Roberts Stadium.