There are voids on the pitch, barely visible, but the Penn men’s soccer team is asking everyone to pay no attention to the men of yesteryear.
Yes, former stars Jake Levin, Christian Barreiro and two-time captain Thomas Brandt are gone, but coach Rudy Fuller doesn’t want his team to grieve.
“Every team is different,” Fuller said. “It’s not about replacing three guys.”
Rather, it’s about building chemistry with the current set of players, something that may have been lacking last season. The Quakers finished a disappointing sixth in the Ivy League, letting numerous games slip through the cracks as the clock neared its 90th minute.
“We just weren’t putting in the extra effort,” junior Jonny Dolezal said. “We’d try to get people to stay after practice, to get a few more reps in, and it just didn’t happen.”
Dolezal will take Brandt’s place at the center of Penn’s defense, as well as inside the locker room as captain, working to keep the team motivated.
The late-game collapses left a bitter taste in the mouth of Penn’s returnees, but last season also taught them a valuable lesson about the chemistry that Fuller is cultivating this preseason.
“It was kind of a self-made lesson,” sophomore forward Duke Lacroix said. “We have to bond together when we get down and learn to fight back.”
For Fuller, that process starts with players getting comfortable with teammates — every starter other than forwards Lacroix and Steven Baker will be playing in new positions on the pitch.
After they’ve developed chemistry on the field, Fuller hopes they’ll be prepared for those tough Ivy matches.
“You don’t lose close games for soccer reasons — there’s an X-factor missing,” Fuller said. “It’s something intangible.”
With only two seniors on the squad, Fuller expects the sophomores and juniors to step to the forefront as leaders.
The majority of the offense will come from Lacroix, last season’s Ivy Rookie of the Year, and Baker. Each scored five goals and had two assists a year ago, tying them for second on the team in points.
Defensively, Dolezal will be paired on the inside with fellow junior Nicky Yin, who made 16 starts last season.
Sophomore keeper Max Kurtzman was unable to finish last year’s campaign due to injury but is now fully healthy. The goalie had two shutouts in 14 games as a freshman while posting a 1.17 goals against average.
The Quakers start the season at home this weekend. They play Lafayette Friday, follower by a matchup with New Hampshire on Sunday.
The potential is there, but Penn’s hopes rely on finding chemistry and being able and willing to put in the work necessary to win the Ivy League.
“We’re making sure everyone’s on the same page, that everyone has the same goals,” Fuller said. “All of the cliches.”