At the end of a long season, Light Blue men’s soccer had to watch as No. 11 Cornell celebrated an Ivy Championship in Manhattan.
“We looked better than they did,” men’s soccer head coach Kevin Anderson said after the Lions’ 1-0 loss on Saturday. “At the end of the day, we didn’t capitalize on our chances. It’s remarkable. But it’s been one of those seasons.”
A constant theme throughout the season was the team’s lack of scoring. And no matter what the Lions did, it seemed like they just couldn’t find the answer to their offensive woes.
Columbia set high expectations last year by finishing a single point out of first in the Ivy League. Players and coaches said they thought the team could improve again this year, which could mean winning the program’s first Ivy title since 1993.
Despite losing eight players to graduation, as well as all-Ivy striker senior Will Stamatis for the semester to an internship, there was still a significant amount of talent returning. New and old faces both helped on defense. Up front, senior midfielder Nick Scott, sophomore midfielder David Najem, and sophomore forward Henning Sauerbier, who all placed onto the all-Ivy second team in 2011, were again main parts of the Columbia attack. Talented sophomore forward and transfer Kofi Agyapong returned for his second season as well.
Although the team allowed fewer goals than it did a year ago, ultimately, it simply could not score enough to win.
The reasons for this problem varied by game. In the early part of the season, the Lions were shut out in four of their first six games while players got accustomed to new roles and positions.
But the latter part of the season was a different story. Trying different techniques—playing some team members out of position, changing tactics offensively, or substituting in speedy forwards to run down the wing, for example—the Light Blue did manage to score a goal in eight of its final 10 matches, including five of seven Ancient Eight games.
But that was it—a goal, never two, in those eight contests, a year after snapping a five-game goal drought with five multi-goal performances in the final eight matches of the season. Columbia lost 1-0 five times this season—the same amount as in the previous two years combined. The Light Blue scored twice or more only two times this season. The last time the Lions had fewer than three multi-goal games in one season was in 1974, when they went winless.
After losses to Cornell and No. 15 Brown, Anderson expressed similar sentiments about the team’s scoring difficulty.
“We just have to capitalize on those moments,” Anderson said of the team’s offensive chances after the loss to the Bears.
In one of the Lions’ two Ivy victories this season, a 1-0 win against conference-worst Harvard, the Lions sat back to protect their one-goal lead.
Then in a scoreless draw with Princeton, after a defensive first half, the Tigers got into a rhythm in the second, and the Lions had trouble getting the ball. Meanwhile, in a loss versus Dartmouth, the story was flipped: Columbia got into dangerous areas in the final 45 minutes but could barely gain possession in the first half.
A few days after the loss to the Big Green—the sixth time in seven games Columbia got on the scoreboard, albeit with an own goal against Dartmouth—Najem said the team was still trying to figure out how to click.
“We have everything we need. We’re just trying to put it all together at this point,” he said.
He added that there was always reason to keep trying to find a groove offensively, even if the Lions had dug too deep a hole to contend for the Ivy title this year. “It’ll be great for the future as well,” he said.
After the loss in the season finale to Cornell, yet another game in which offense was a concern, Scott said he thought the team would be better at generating and converting chances in the future because of its youth.
“We’ve got a lot of good players coming up and rising and getting more minutes,” he said.
But at this point, that future starts with next season, about nine months from away.
For now, Anderson succinctly summed up this past season on Saturday.