Two weeks ago, the men’s soccer team (7-4-2, 1-1-2 Ivy) didn’t have the easiest go of things at home against Penn. Attacks died in the midfield thanks to miscommunications, errant passes, or poor decisions with the ball. And the team was fortunate to come away with a point after sophomore goalie Kyle Jackson made a crucial save on a penalty kick in overtime. That game was the first of two in which Columbia’s clicking offense and possession game went cold.
The team has recovered over the last week, though—outclassing Binghamton 2-1 in a game that was not as close as the score, and winning at Dartmouth 2-0. In doing so, the team was able to return to what made it successful earlier in the season: moving the ball crisply from defense to the skilled attackers, making runs to open up passing lanes, and completing quick passes to create scoring opportunities.
Senior striker Will Stamatis opened the scoring in the second half against Dartmouth with a header off a cross from senior midfielder David Najem. Later, Najem picked up another assist, as a give-and-go with freshman midfielder Andrew Tinari ended up in the back of the net.
“We moved the ball quickly. We were able to follow the game plan, get the ball wide, and get some serves in,” Stamatis said. “I think this was one of the first games we were really connecting passes and working around the defense, and we were able to get to dangerous positions.”
At times, playing players out of position has also helped Columbia move the ball around the field. Skilled midfielders Mike Abraham, a junior, and Najem are two of the team’s better passers, and occasional stints on defense have helped Columbia transition games from time to time. For instance, the Light Blue’s best stretch of play against Penn came with Najem at right defense. More recently, Najem—along with senior midfielder Henning Sauerbier—has been playing deeper in the midfield instead of on the wing as an attacking midfielder, filling the gap between the forwards and defense.
“I think if we can maintain our composure and confidence, and keep focusing on basic things—speed and technique, getting our heads open, creating right angles and distances to make passing lanes … as long as we execute we should be able to keep doing what we’ve been doing these past two games,” Stamatis said.
Lion head coach Kevin Anderson pointed out that there’s an additional defensive benefit in maintaining possession.
“We were able to stay a little bit more focused. We did a little better job keeping the ball and keeping possession, which then minimizes their opportunities,” he said.
The Lions allowed only 12 shots in their wins over Binghamton and Dartmouth combined—a solid single-game average for most teams, let alone a two-game total. To date, the only teams to have scored multiple goals on Columbia this season are Princeton and a trio of former top-25: Creighton, Brown, and University of Connecticut.
“We might have gotten a little complacent after we had gotten a couple of wins under our belt before,” Stamatis said. “Now we know what can happen, so I think that productive paranoia can be a good thing now.”
Columbia is next in action on Saturday, hosting Yale.