The Penn men’s soccer team’s final tuneup couldn’t be coming at a better time.
After a weekend when the Quakers tallied 10 goals in two games and secured their first two wins of the year, they’ll face Drexel on Wednesday in their last game before Ivy play begins Saturday.
“[The team] definitely took a step forward this past weekend,” coach Rudy Fuller said. “We think we turned a corner this weekend.”
The Quakers (2-6) will match up with the Dragons (4-2-1) for the first time since 2005.
The young Penn squad will face a Drexel team that comes into the game on a roll, having won four of its last five matches, including a 4-1 trouncing of No. 11 Old Dominion Saturday.
Fuller acknowledged the Dragons are “very good, seasoned and experienced.”
But the Quakers’ young squad, which boasts just two seniors, could finally be coming into its own, senior captain Travis Cantrell believes.
“A lot of guys are maturing,” he said. “They are stepping into roles and we are growing as a team.”
The strong strength of schedule has certainly taken its toll on Penn, but the team could be much better than its record suggests.
“Finally everyone is healthy. All of our key guys are there,” junior Nicky Yin said.
Matching up with Drexel could also be the perfect chance for Penn to work on improving its second-half defense, which has proven to be its Achilles’ heel this season.
While Penn has given up 15 goals in the second half of games and overtime, Drexel has played its best soccer after halftime, scoring 10 of its 13 goals in the second half or overtime.
Second-half struggles cost the Quakers a chance to take a top-ranked opponent to overtime. Against then-No. 12 Georgetown, the Red and Blue were able to keep the game tied at one until the 76th minute. But the Hoyas netted two goals in the last 15 minutes to secure the victory.
Another key to Wednesday’s game is containing Drexel’s sophomore duo of Fabio Machado and Michele Pataia.
Machado has served as a spark plug for the Dragons with two goals and four assists, and Pataia has three goals, two of which came against Old Dominion, and an assist.
And then there’s Matheus Goncalves, who’s netted two goals coming off the bench for Drexel.
While the Penn offense finally exploded over the weekend, the coaching staff has been stressing the importance of improving the defense, which has allowed 21 goals in eight contests.
“If we are able to put shutouts together, the goals will come,” Fuller said.
If the Quakers want to get back to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years, like they believe they can, their defensive woes, especially in the second half, will need to be solved.
“Our goal is finish first,” Fuller said. “Every game remaining is a winnable game.”