Men’s Soccer Ends Year With Amherst Loss

By Owen Teach

With its fair share of both high points and low points, this season’s edition of Middlebury men’s soccer certainly left something to be desired. The Panthers quietly bowed out in the first round of the NESCAC tournament via a lopsided 4-0 defeat at Amherst, and with it began a long offseason of work to return the program to its championship-caliber stature.

Its 6-7-1 final record marks the first time that the team finished under .500 in Dave Saward’s 28 years as head coach, and prompts the question of how a program typically amongst the best in the region struggled so mightily this year.

The Panthers were hit hard by injuries, with crucial players Jon Portman ’13, Tyler Smith ’14 and Sam Redmond ’15 sidelined for significant portions of the year. Goalie Eric Wilson ’13 also never saw the field. Saward commented on the slew of injuries this year.

“I think that at the end of the day, the number of players that we lost for almost the entire season had a massive impact,” said Saward. “It went on and seemed never-ending, with at one point almost nine players out. I point specifically to Portman, a player that we had counted on to play in influential areas in the midfield. I don’t believe in making excuses, but it certainly had both an emotional and technical impact.”

Sam Peisch ’13.5 refuses to use injuries as an excuse.

“It’s always tempting to say ‘What if …’ but the reality of the season is that we didn’t get it done when we had to,” said Peisch. “The guys that played in the games didn’t do enough to win. We only have ourselves to blame for that.”

To seal its fate as the NESCAC tournament’s seventh seed, the Panthers traveled to Williams last Wednesday, Oct. 24. Despite being tied 1-1 in the second half, the Ephs quickly countered Harper Williams’s ’15 61st minute goal with one of their own in the 63rd. They then tallied again in the 80th to win 3-1.

In the tournament quarterfinal last Saturday, Oct. 27, Amherst controlled the run of play from the first whistle. The Lord Jeffs converted in the 32nd minute and carried a lead into halftime. Amherst then buried the Panthers in the second half, scoring three goals to seal the final score of 4-0. Saward was impressed with the opponent’s performance.

“In my 28 years of doing this I have watched a lot of good teams, and Amherst is one of the best teams that I have seen at this level,” said Saward. “I was proud how my team represented Middlebury, but the better team won and talent took over. I think that Amherst could go on a run to win the national championship.”

Despite the loss, Peisch’s comments showed that his team never stopped believing.

“To be honest, we all believed we had a shot against Amherst. Our regular season loss against them at home was by no means a blowout, and we had chances to get back into the game,” said Peisch. “In the quarterfinal game we were simply overwhelmed by their combination of size, skill and work ethic.”

Middlebury is now left to turn the page on this season and look towards 2013, a year that contains an equal measure of promise and uncertainty. Sophomores Williams and Dan Skayne ’15 provided flashes of brilliance, while Saward is also excited about the development of Deklan Robinson ’16, a player who played both central midfield and defense this year.

However, without an entrenched starting goalkeeper and question marks on offense, the Panthers line-up next year is far from set.

Regardless of personnel, Peisch is clear on the team’s goal.

“Our task next season is to restore the men’s soccer program as a perennial NESCAC and national championship contender,” said Peisch. “We are excited both about the potential of our incoming [first-years] and a number of underclassmen who started or played in a majority of our games this season. With a small, core group of four-year varsity players as seniors, we are going to dedicate the offseason and summer to achieving this goal.”

Saward has a similar mentality.

“I think the talk might be negative right now, but when the dust settles the team can look at the experience and grow to become better players,” said Saward. “With the addition of a few recruits, we have the pieces. We need to stay healthy, and this is something you can never predict.”