Twelve games into the season, the Penn men’s soccer team is still missing something — a clean sheet.
In a sport where scoreless or one-goal games are a common occurrence, such a situation is a rarity.
There’s one simple explanation for the Quakers’ miserable 2-10 and 0-3 Ivy records: The defense has let the team down in virtually every single game.
With the exception of a 1-0 loss to Columbia on Oct. 6, Penn’s opponents have scored at least twice in each contest.
In fact, the Quakers are dead last in the Ivy League with 30 goals allowed — an average of 2.5 per game. That’s at least double the amount of any other Ancient Eight team, except for Harvard, which has conceded 20 scores.
With only five games remaining in the 2012 season, it has become apparent that the defense is still struggling to adjust to what coach Rudy Fuller called “the greatest turnover of personnel in the back half of the field in a number of years.”
While the potent attacking trio of Travis Cantrell, Duke Lacroix and Stephen Baker has picked up the slack following the departure of 2011 Philly Soccer Six Player of the Year Christian Barreiro, the backfield is still adjusting to the loss of former captain Thomas Brandt and star defender Jake Levin.
Nicky Yin and Jonny Dolezal, who returned as starters this year, played at the wide back position last year, and the transition to central back hasn’t been easy.
This move put an immense strain on the defense, especially early in the season, with two brand new starters at Yin and Dolezal’s old positions.
On top of that, similar changes in the midfield have led to a lack of continuity in the back half of the field. The only player still in the same spot as a year ago is defending midfielder Louis Schott.
Six games into the season, it became clear to Fuller that the backfield was going to be a weak link. As a result, he shifted the team’s focus to defense.
“Our overall team defending was just not good enough,” Fuller said. “You need clean sheets to be successful.”
And while that statement rings true, it makes sense that the Quakers have yet to post a shutout. After all, as Fuller accurately described, the team is dealing with a “little bit of a perfect storm.”
The holes in the defense aren’t making goalkeeper Max Kurtzman’s life any easier, either.
While the sophomore is second in the Ivy League with 50 saves — which isn’t surprising considering the number of shots his defense has allowed — his save percentage of .694 ranks ninth.
“Defending relies on the connections and the touches among the players, and that understanding relationship takes time to develop,” Fuller said. “It’s certainly taken longer than we anticipated and it’s been a very challenging season.”
Time will come for the Quakers’ newest generation. Most of their players are still young, and improvement in the next few games could serve as a springboard for next year.
The backfield needs to get in sync. The younger players need to learn from their mistakes, and the older ones need to set the example for their peers.
Finally getting a clean sheet in the process wouldn’t be bad either.
KARL BAGHERZADEH is a sophomore international studies and business major from Paris, France. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.