Even the most casual of fans could tell that coach
Matt Smith was far from thrilled heading into halftime
versus the Dickinson College Red Devils on Sept. 30. The
Blue Jays men's soccer team,
ranked No. 13 in the nation, was locked in a scoreless tie
that night at Homewood Field, where they had been
undefeated in their last 49 conference games.
Clearly matters could be worse, but what was troubling
Smith was the team's inconsistent play, poor midfield
tackling and the failure of his typically high-powered
offense to mount any sustained attacks.
"Our halftime conversation was interesting ... and
colorful, put it that way," said Smith, who is quick with a
Whatever was said, worked. Two minutes into the second
half, Hopkins scored the go-ahead goal, and one score was
all Hopkins would need due to its tight defense and the
stellar play of senior goalkeeper Danny Coble, the reigning
Centennial Conference Defensive Player of the Week who had
not allowed a goal in six straight games.
More importantly, the conference home streak
Once again, Coach Smith has the Blue Jays playing at a
very high level: 11-1 as of press time on Friday. The team,
which lost seven starters to graduation and has several
underclassmen in prominent starting roles, had won seven
straight going into this weekend's game, including a 10-0
waxing of Keystone College on Sept. 18.
Smith said these young Jays are ahead of schedule.
If Smith's track record is any gauge, the success
shouldn't be too surprising.
Coach Matt Smith
Photo by Will Kirk/HIPS
The winningest coach in the team's history, Smith, now
in his 14th season, has a stunning 214-39-17 overall record
and has turned Johns Hopkins into a perennial national
power. Among coaches in any NCAA division with a minimum of
10 years' experience, Smith ranks seventh all-time and
third in winning percentage among active coaches.
A graduate of Towson University, where he was a
standout player, Smith joined Hopkins in 1993 after two
years as an assistant coach at his alma mater.
Smith, only 28 at the time, inherited a team that had
won just three games and scored a mere 12 goals in the
prior season. He said the decision to come here, however,
was a no-brainer. For one, things could only get better.
"Being an assistant [coach] is good experience, but
you want to be the one making the decisions," Smith said.
"So I ran when [the job] was open."
The turnaround was quick. In his first year, Smith led
the team to its first winning season in three years. Next
year, the Blue Jays came within one goal of winning the
national championship, losing 0-1 in overtime to Bethany
University in the NCAA Division III finals.
"It's probably the only game we should have won in
that whole tournament because every other team completely
outplayed us, but somehow we won. And in the finals we
outplayed that team, and we lost," he said. "That's
Since then, the men's soccer team has continued a
winning tradition under Smith, with seven trips to the NCAA
tournament, five Centennial Conference championships and
five appearances in the Eastern College Athletic Conference
tournament. Last season, the Blue Jays finished 14-2-5 and
secured the ECAC South championship.
In particular, Johns Hopkins has been nearly
impossible to beat at home, with a .900 winning percentage
The home crowds at Homewood Field, between 150 and 500
strong, are vocal and enthusiastic, gasping at every goal
opportunity and quick with a thunderous compliment to a
player or a polite (ahem) inquiry for the referee.
Smith said he thinks one key reason for the success at
home is that not having to travel cuts down on the player
"I really think that Hopkins kids are under a lot more
of a pressure cooker [than at other schools] to do well
academically," Smith said. "After our McDaniel game, and
this is a typical story, the team captain said no music on
the bus and no television because he had a test on Monday
to study for. And this is a Saturday and only a one-hour
Throughout Smith's tenure, the team has produced
top-notch players and students. Several Jays have been
scouted by and offered contracts from professional teams,
and one player, Ryan Kitzen (2002), made it onto the U.S.
National B team.
Smith lauds the quality of play in Division III men's
soccer, stressing the negligible disparity between all NCAA
divisions. In fact, in exhibition games, Johns Hopkins has
beaten several perennial Division I powers and even some
He said that people who head to Homewood Field to
check out the team are in for a treat.
"I think we're exciting," he said. "The environment at
Homewood Field at night is a pleasant experience, and we
play an attractive style of soccer. As a coach, I would
rather us win a game 5-2 than 1-0. We want to push ahead
and make it a fun experience for our players and a fun
experience for those in the stands. I think people are
shocked at the level of play when they do get to a game.
They have no idea it's going to be this good, and that is
always the best compliment to get from people."
They will also see some great goalkeeping.
Coble, due to an injury to the team's only other
goalie, has played every minute in goal this season for
Hopkins. He posts a 0.33 goals against average and a .918
save percentage, and has eight shutouts to his credit.
Smith jokes that during practice teammates treat Coble with
kid gloves and make sure he comes out in one piece.
"What is amazing about Dan is that, even as a nonfield
player, he is the most fit kid we have," Smith said. "He
also has tremendous leadership ability. He's vocal and
encouraging. When he got his chance to start, you knew he
wanted to keep it, and he has excelled."
Coble, who spent the majority of the past three
seasons as the No. 2 keeper, said he was a bit nervous
going into the season, but starting off the 2006 campaign
with five games in eight days left him no time to dwell on
it too long.
He said that Coach Smith also has done his part to
boost his, and the team's, confidence.
"He knows the game. I think his winning percentage
here says it all," Coble said. "And he knows how to coach
the tight games and tight situations. When he sees we're
not playing at our best, he knows just how to set us up to
get back in the game."
Sounds like a recent halftime talk.
The Blue Jays have three more regular season games at
home: Swarthmore at 4 p.m. on Oct. 14, Arcadia at 4 p.m. on
Oct. 18 and Washington College at 7 p.m. on Oct. 25.