Men’s Soccer Sputters in Homecoming Loss

By Owen Teach

Coming off a four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1) that dated back to Oct. 2, the Middlebury men’s soccer team was looking to make a late-season surge into the top part of the NESCAC standings this past Saturday, Oct. 20th against Bates. Despite a large homecoming crowd and a picture perfect day the Panthers fell to the Bobcats 2-0 after Bates scored a pair of second-half goals. The Panthers, with a record of 6-5-1 (3-5-1 in conference), have one regular season game remaining before the NESCAC tournament begins this coming weekend.

The week was made even more disappointing for the Panthers as they had their Oct. 16 fixture against a much weaker Colby-Sawyer side canceled due to heavy rain in New London, N.H. Head coach Dave Saward was not pleased with Colby-Sawyer’s decision to cancel.

“The Colby-Sawyer game was taken away from us, and I was very disappointed with how [their athletic department] handled it,” said Saward. “There’s not anything we can do, but there had to be a way that we could have played that game. In a short, 14-game season, to have one taken away hurts. It also was a doubly disappointing week to have a game taken away and then play like that on Saturday.”

Saturday’s match left much to be desired for the Panthers, who came falling back to earth against Bates after posting a string of promising results in October.

Despite seeing a few close chances just miss the cage in the first half, Middlebury failed to challenge the Bates goalkeeper. Neither side managed to generate much offensive firepower, as the Bobcats only mustered two shots in the direction of Zach Abdu-Glass ’13. Unfortunately for Middlebury, both of those shots found the back of the goal. John Murphy of Williams scored his seventh and eighth goals of the year, in the 52nd and 74th minutes, respectively.

Saward commented to his team’s lackluster offensive production.

“I don’t think that they outplayed us at all, but we defended poorly twice and got punished,” said Saward. “We didn’t take a venomous shot in the entire game, and I don’t remember their goalkeeper making a difficult save. At the end of the day we didn’t have enough punch up front, and our players must take more responsibility for being hungry in the penalty box.”

One bright spot for the Panthers was the return of Jon Portman ’13 to the field, who had been sidelined since early September with a knee injury. Matt Martin ’12.5 spoke to the importance of his teammate’s recovery.

“It was great to see Portman on the field again and you can tell it means a lot to him,” said Martin. “He’s done really well to jump right back into a competitive game and has shown some of what we know he can do. He’s still a little bit limited striking a ball with his right leg, but his weaker left is as good as anyone’s strongest, so he’ll be alright.”

Saward also mentioned that Portman’s recovery is ongoing.

“A lot of [how he will be used] has to do with what he tells me, and fitness-wise he’s not at 100 percent,” said Saward. “We were delighted to get him in, but he was tentative in tackling, which is half of his job description. It will be minute to minute.”

While this past week was dissatisfying for the Panthers, their Oct. 13th performance against Trinity gives some hope for a revival.

Middlebury traveled to Hartford, Conn. and beat its NESCAC rival by a final score of 2-1, powered by two unassisted goals from Alvand Hajizadeh ’13 and Harper Williams ’15. Hajizadeh and Williams now sit at first and second in individual scoring on the team, with 10 and five points, respectively. Abdu-Glass also recorded nine saves in the contest.

Saward commented that the team received a bit of luck in the contest, not always the case for his team this season.

“We got the luck that you needed,” said Saward. “The second goal was somewhat of a goalkeeping error, but Alvand did well following up the rebound. Harper’s first strike was excellent. We didn’t play great but did well enough to win.”

Middlebury will look to regroup as it now turns its attention a road test in the NESCAC quarterfinals this Saturday, Oct. 27.