Despite being plagued with inconsistencies in the 1-2-1 start, PU men’s football are confident they can win on their way to victory

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BEN THERE IT’S DONE: Princeton University men’s soccer player Ben Bograd controls the ball during recent action. Senior Bograd helped anchor the Tigers’ backline this fall as they got off to a 1-2-1 start. Princeton, which lost 3-1 at Fairfield last Saturday, hosts Rider on Sept. 23 before playing St. John’s on Sept. 27. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feill

All analysis revealed that the Princeton University men’s soccer team had the upper hand over Fairfield last Saturday night.

The dashboard said otherwise. The Tigers suffered a 3-1 loss at Fairfield to follow an incredible team effort that led to a 2-1 win at Penn State the previous week.

“I think we’ve been pretty inconsistent the first four games,” Princeton head coach Jim Barlow said after dropping to 1-2-1 ahead of Tuesday’s scheduled game against Loyola.

“There are some parts of our game that haven’t progressed enough, especially the restart defense.”

Fairfield’s first two goals came after restarts and their third came on a break-attack after a Princeton corner, one of many scoring chances created by the Tigers. Princeton improved early in the season to create chances and hope to finish more in the next stretch. Princeton fired seven more shots than Fairfield and held a 9-1 lead in corner kicks.

“When you look at the stats of the Fairfield game, it was arguably our best game in terms of time in their innings and chances created,” Barlow said.

“When you look at the data analytics from that game, the expected goals were two goals more than Fairfield, but we still ended up losing. From that perspective, it’s a bit frustrating.”

Princeton opened the season with a 1-1 draw at Rutgers, then fell to Vermont, 2-0, despite beating the Catamounts, 16-8.

“In both of our losses, we outshot our opponent by a wide margin and conceded goals that we thought you just can’t concede if you expect to win a game of college football,” Barlow said.

Princeton turned around and won at Penn State to show potential when things started to click. This is the second straight year the Tigers have beaten Penn State.

“It was a big win against Penn State,” Barlow said. “It would be hard to single out anyone against Penn State because everyone worked so hard for this result. Against Fairfield, especially in the second half, we felt it was very good teamwork. The midfield was really strong. In the second half, it was a freshman Gabe Duchovny who played behind Malik Pinto and James Wangsness. These guys had a really good streak where they controlled the game and helped create a lot of chances.

Barlow has seen the team start generating more opportunities, and that bodes well for their upcoming schedule if they finish better.

“We had a really good streak in the second half, about 25 minutes against Fairfield was probably our best streak of the year,” Barlow said.

“We were just everywhere and got some good chances. We hit the crossbar, their keeper made some good saves, we had another couple go over it.

Fairfield had fewer chances but capitalized on his pressure. Princeton gave up an own goal but Fairfield returned the favor to level the score. The Stags scored the game’s next two goals for the win when the Tigers couldn’t find the equalizer.

“Up front, we just got bitten by the last bit of storage,” Barlow said.

“But Daniel Diaz Bonilla, Walker Gillespie, Jack Jasinski, all created a lot of chances in this game. Ryan Clare had another solid game. We think the score against Fairfield doesn’t say enough about how the things have happened. We think we are going in the right direction.”

Princeton has yet another pair of non-league games after its Loyola contest before opening Ivy League play at Dartmouth. Princeton hosts Rider in a local showdown on September 23 at Class of 1952 Stadium, its last game there before moving to the renovated Roberts Stadium for the rest of the year. The Tigers are also scheduled to play in St. John’s on Sept. 27.

“We have our last two games at the lacrosse stadium this week and then we move into our stadium, which is exciting for everyone,” Barlow said.

“Hopefully we can put the loss to Fairfield behind us and get back to work. I am convinced that we can. We have a tough schedule for a reason. We do it to improve. And if you miss a few games at the start of the season, it’s not the end of the world. We just have to make sure we learn our lessons and get back to work and turn things around. »

That will help when the Tigers have their full roster of players. Princeton are yet to play in full, and in particular, they lost a few key plays in the second half to Fairfield.

“One of the things is we have to get healthy,” Barlow said. “At the end of the game at Fairfield we had four defenders and a goalkeeper who all had a ton of time due to injury or illness. So we need to get healthy. Especially at the back, it’s been a big priority to get all of our guys to the point where we can figure out what’s the best formation based on how the guys are playing, not who’s available that day. .

A silver lining to early injuries and illnesses is that he got more of the roster on the pitch. Princeton was able to develop his depth out of necessity.

“I feel like we’re a deep team,” Barlow said. “From game to game, the line-up can change depending on what we think it will take to win this game and what qualities we need. The first-year guys came in and made an impact all straight away, even the guys who haven’t entered the field are about to get there. The depth has been a real advantage for us. I think most teams, if they lose that many guys at the start of the season, would be dominated and we don’t think that’s the case for us.

As Princeton grows at full strength, they’re counting on the veterans to keep the team focused and headed in the right direction. The Tigers have five All-Ivy League players returning from last year’s Ivy Championship team.

“There are a lot of guys who have seen a good number of minutes in the past,” Barlow said.

“Lucas Gen is our senior captain and he missed the first two games due to injury. He is slowly coming back to himself and getting back into shape and we hope he continues to regain his health and improve. There are guys like Daniel Diaz Bonilla who have been there for years, and Ben Bograd and Walker Gillespie and Malik played a ton last year and James Wangsness played a ton last year. Ryan Clare has been on the court a lot in his four years, so there are plenty of experienced guys out there who understand what it’s going to take. »

To this experienced group, the Tigers have added a solid selection of newcomers. The freshman class was ranked #5 by TopDrawerSoccer. They came and had an immediate impact.

“Giuliano (Fravolini) Whitchurch has been very solid and he’s had a few injuries already, but we know he’s going to be a very important defender for us,” Barlow said.

“Jack Jasinski has played in several places. He played in midfield, he played up front, he played wide. He created a lot of our best chances against Fairfield, and he was a really strong first year. Gabriel Duchovny came off the bench and did a very good job as a deep midfielder. Sam Vigilante and Daniel Ittycheria have already got minutes as freshman guys and have done pretty well with them.

The trick for the Tigers is to sort through his depth and heal injuries so he can put the best side on the pitch. Princeton haven’t had a lot of time to assess all of their potential lineups, but each week helps them get closer to their most effective look.

“We’re getting there, but with such a short pre-season and only one scrum, it’s so difficult,” Barlow said.

“You have gone through this start of the season where you don’t really know your team yet. Against Rutgers, we felt like we were throwing a few darts to see what would work because we just hadn’t had a chance to play any games other than the single scrimmage date yet. We continue to put pieces together and learn more. Some guys came to camp with a small injury and are starting to get healthy. We also try to find out more about these guys. It is clear that it is a very good deep group, but we do not know how all this will be put in place.

The first four games have given the Tigers a mixed bag in terms of results, but Princeton has been boosted by how it is developing in certain areas. Once the team is healthier and defends restart situations with more urgency, the Tigers feel good about their potential in a highly competitive Ivy League.

“The encouraging signs are that our ball movement has improved,” Barlow said.

“Our ability to move forward with some urgency has improved. Our defense on the pitch has been pretty good lately, where we keep teams locked in and don’t let them out. And I think we’re a good team. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll win any matches, but there are plenty of good starting points with this group.

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