The Quakers had one goal going into Wednesday night’s matchup with Drexel: shore up their back line.
And they did — except for one missed man.
The Penn men’s soccer team fell to its 33rd Street rivals at Vidas Field, 2-1, on a late goal.
Both teams entered the night on a roll. Penn (2-7) had just picked up its first two wins, including a 7-2 steamrolling of Rider. The Dragons (5-2-1) were coming off a convincing 4-1 victory over No. 11 Old Dominion.
Early on it seemed the Red and Blue defense would be their pitfall as it had been several times this season. In the 10th minute, Drexel crossed what should have been a harmless grounder into the box, but no one picked it up until the Dragons’ Nathan Page found it near the penalty spot and drove it into the top left corner.
Drexel’s celebration — to “Gagnam Style” on the PA system — was short-lived. Two minutes later, senior Travis Cantrell ripped a line drive from 25 yards out that flew across the goal. Even from that range, the outstretched Drexel keeper had no chance of turning it away.
“I just turned and had a bit of space, and my teammates said ‘Shoot, shoot!’” Cantrell said. “And I just hit it.”
Of the eight shots on goal that Penn notched, the long-range goal appeared to be one of the more innocuous chances.
Sophomore Duke Lacroix, who put four shots on net, had a one-on-one attempt deflected just wide by the keeper. Junior Stephen Baker, guarded tightly by two defenders, almost produced a goal out of nowhere on a lob shot before it was tipped just over the net.
Drexel keeper Tim Washam vexed a Penn team coming off a 10-goal weekend, recording seven saves on the night.
The Quakers might have found the back of the net a second time, but coupling the wall that was Washam with a few bad touches in the box, they managed one lone goal.
“Scoring goals is something that comes and goes,” Cantrell said. “It’s more important that we’re generating chances.”
The tiebreaker came with seven minutes remaining when the Dragons placed a beautiful lob pass that beat Penn’s defense and found Ken Tribbett, who drove a hard grounder past Max Kurtzman.
Drexel would lock up possession for the rest of the match to hold on for the win.
The ‘L’ in the record book doesn’t really sum up the game. Stat-by-stat, the Quakers kept up with the Dragons.
But Penn’s focus this whole season has been on defense — and the team hasn’t yet held an opponent to fewer than two goals.
Still, Penn’s back line looked composed on Wednesday. And while Drexel put two goals into the back of the net, they weren’t stringing passes together at will.
“I was pleased by the effort tonight,” Fuller said.
While beating a West Philly rival is always important, this match was truly a tune-up going into “what really matters,” as Fuller put it: Ivy play.
The Quakers dive into conference play with a staunch first challenge — 8-0 Cornell on Saturday in Ithaca, N.Y.