O'Neil's Goal Tops Yale For Outright Title, Perfect Ivy Season
Jim Barlow has been a player or head coach for the Princeton men's soccer team for 319 games covering four decades, and at no point of any of that time had he ever experienced what he did when the clock finally showed all zeroes in New Haven Saturday afternoon.
That's okay, though. Neither had anyone else who had ever been associated with the program.
Freshman Patrick O'Neil scored from the top of the box early in the second half to snap a tie, and when the Tigers made it stand up the rest of the way, they found themselves in a place that Princeton men's soccer had never before been.
O'Neil's goal gave Princeton a 2-1 win over Yale Saturday afternoon to complete 11th-ranked Princeton's remarkable run through the ivy League at a perfect 7-0-0. The 2010 Tigers became the first men's soccer team in school history to have a perfect Ivy League season.
The Ivy championship is the seventh in program history and first since 2001. The 2010 Tigers became the 12th team in league history to go 7-0-0.
Princeton will find out its NCAA tournament draw Monday at 4:30, when the selections are announced on ESPNU.
"When we found out that no Princeton team had ever done it before, it gave us some extra motivation," said Barlow, the 1990 Ivy League Player of the Year who has now coached Princeton to three Ivy League championships. "We got great leadership from our seniors. They wouldn't let us let up."
Princeton had already clinched at least a share of the ivy title and the league's automatic NCAA tournament bid with last week's win over Penn in a showdown between teams that both had brought perfect league records to Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium.
The challenge this week was to go on the road against a struggling Yale team that would have loved nothing more than to ruin Princeton's flirtation with league perfection and quest for an outright championship.
"We had really good training all week," Barlow said. "We didn't want to let the outright championship get away."
The idea of a perfect league record might not have seemed realistic a little less than two months ago, when Princeton lost at Villanova 2-0 to fall to 1-3-1. At the same time, the Ivy League had multiple teams in the national Top 25.
Princeton has not lost since, and the win over Yale was the 12th straight for the Tigers, who improved to 13-3-1. The winning streak is also the longest in school history, one better than the 11-game streaks from 1919-20 and 1926-27.
"To me, it's amazing," Barlow said. "After our 1-3-1 start, if you'd told me that we'd get through the league without a blemish, especially with how strong the league has been, i would have thought you were crazy. This group found a way. Some days we didn't play great. Other days we got some breaks. But whatever it was, we did what we had to do."
That included the game against Yale.
Princeton dominated play early, and it paid off when Ben Burton headed in a long throw-in from Mark Linville 10 minutes before the half. And then a minute later, the Tigers gave it right back, as an own goal off a clearing attempt knotted the score at 1-1 and left Yale in the rare position of having one goal and no shots to that point.
It stayed 1-1 through the first 16 minutes of the second half, before O'Neil scored his second career goal.
"We made four or five good passes, and then Pat O'Neil got the ball at the top of the box," Barlow said. "Then it got away from him, but he won it back and put a great shot into the lower corner."
Princeton outshot Yale 14-3, and the Bulldogs didn't attempt a shot after Princeton regained the lead.
The result is Princeton's ninth trip to the NCAA tournament - and second straight. This time, Princeton will not have to sweat out the selections like it did a year ago when it earned an at-large bid, and it's also likely that the Tigers will get a first-round bye and second-round home game in the 48-team field.
"We're optimistic going into the tournament," Barlow said. "We think we're playing really well right now. We're capable of scoring goals in many ways and we're defending well. That's a good combination. I hope we keep the same energy and same focus now that we've won the league."