When junior Steven Baker received a red card with 11 minutes remaining in Sunday’s match against Hartford, the crowd hollered wildly.
Though their exasperated cries were focused toward the referee who made the questionable call, their anguish had built up over the course of a weekend in which Penn took 38 shots and had only two goals to show for it.
Friday night, the Quakers fell to Air Force after Penn allowed two goals following defensive restarts, eventually losing, 2-1.
When the Red and Blue (0-4) returned to the pitch Sunday afternoon, they brought the ammunition, taking 24 shots. But by the time they found the net in the 89th minute, Hartford had already scored two goals.
Both Air Force (1-2-1) and Hartford (3-3) are physical teams, which caused trouble for the Quakers on set pieces. All four goals came off of defensive restarts.
“It’s just something that you have to be aware of,” coach Rudy Fuller said of the physicality of his team’s opponents. “It means that you have to bump a little more, jump earlier, because if you’re not going to get a free, clean header, then you have to make sure that they don’t.”
While the defense has failed to body-up in the game’s most important moments, the offense has been unable to finish opportunities as well.
Sophomore Duke Lacroix and Baker, the Quakers’ most potent offensive players, took aim at the net 20 times over the course of the weekend but are both still searching for their first goals.
“There’s a player in Georgetown right now, Brandon Allen, who can’t seem to miss right now,” Fuller said of the Hoya, who has scored four goals in his team’s first six games. “Soccer is that type of game, and there’s going to be a time during this season where the goals start falling for Duke and Steven in the same way.”
After Hartford took the lead in the 70th minute, the referees made their presence known by slowing down the game.
“They didn’t want to be on the field any longer than they needed to be,” Fuller said. “But that was after the game was already lost for us, a game where we had plenty of chances.”
Senior Travis Cantrell echoed his coach.
“Referees are always going to get scrutinized,” Cantrell said. “But blaming the referees is a cop-out.”
Cantrell, a captain on the squad who scored the only goal for the Quakers against Hartford, believes that, offensively and defensively, Penn’s problems can be chalked up to a simple fact: the Red and Blue are a young team.
“It’s a chemistry thing,” Cantrell said. “With the style of soccer that we play, which is very fluid and connected, chemistry is all-important.”
While they lost both matches this weekend, the Quakers will see similar physical play in their Ivy contests. Cantrell said this experience will only help the squad in the future.
“We just need to keep playing with each other and figuring out how each other thinks,” Cantrell said. “It’ll come.”