Any way you choose to look at it, Bates men’s soccer has improved astronomically this season. Even after Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Connecticut College, the Bobcats hold a 6-3-1 overall record (2-3-1 in the NESCAC). If they can perform as well as they did at the end of last season, when they followed a dreadful, winless first seven games by concluding the year on a 4-3-1 stretch, then Bates will put themselves in an excellent postseason position.
In the goal-scoring department, senior Luis Pereira and junior Peabo Knoth have been leading the Bobcats. The two have combined to score 11 of Bates’ 16 goals, with Pereira netting five and Knoth topping the team with six. Pereira also has tallied an impressive five assists.
Both players attribute the team’s improvement to a unified spirit. Knoth commented, “The major key to improvement this year is a belief that we can win against any team as well as losing individual ego and buying into a collective idea.” Pereira echoed, “The team is doing a lot better because everyone is buying into the system that we imposed and everyone trusts each other on the team. We have not being focusing on individuals but on the team as a whole, and we are treating everyone the same way.”
One area in which Bates’ improvement has been the most pronounced is their defense. Through their first ten games, the Bobcats’ opponents have scored just ten goals, a number that is skewed by the five Wesleyan put in the back of the net in September 26’s 5-0 defeat. Senior goalie Sam Polito has been the team’s unquestioned defensive anchor. Polito is first in the NESCAC with 55 saves, and his teammates are all grateful for his presence in the goalmouth.
“Sam Polito has made excellent saves at big moments such as against Williams in overtime [during Bates’ 2-1 double OT win],” Knoth said. He also credited sophomore PJ DiBenidetto, stating, “PJ has been excellent at center back, he makes a lot of plays that maybe don’t go noticed by spectators but are key to solidifying and organizing a defense.”
The issue that has occasionally plagued Bates is difficulty creating chances to score. During the defeat to Connecticut College, the Bobcats were outshot 15-3. Bates has also been shut out in their NESCAC matchups against Bowdoin and Wesleyan.
“We are working on creating more chances offensively by playing quick and closer to each other, so we have been moving some players around in different positions to try to get quick combinations between the offensive players,” Pereira said. Polito commented, “Offensively, I think we need to get back to the basics. We haven’t provided enough support for our guys up top and that support is going to be crucial as we approach the end of the regular season. If we can add that bit of support there is not telling what we are capable of up top. It’s just a matter of execution at this point.”
With five games remaining, the team is currently tied for sixth in the tightly congested NESCAC standings. According to Pereira, in order for Bates to find their groove in those final games, “We need to focus on the present moment and worry about each day. So if we are practicing, worry about practice. If we are playing, worry about the simple things, passing the ball, tracking a runner, putting in tackles, heading the ball, completing your runs, all of the simple stuff.”
It doesn’t exactly sound simple to the casual fan, but the Bobcats have shown this season that they are capable of executing at a very high level. The final stretch of the regular season begins with an away non-conference game on Wednesday against Curry, followed by three straight crucial NESCAC meetings versus Tufts, Amherst, and Middlebury, and a season-concluding contest against rivals Colby.