Just take a glance at the stat sheet, and it’s easy to deduce that the Penn soccer team’s defense hasn’t been up to par this season.
Indeed, the group is young, and throughout the first 11 games of the season, coach Rudy Fuller has had to tinker with which combination of four guys works best in the back.
The youth has come out in the group’s play.
“We’ve had some key mistakes, key breakdowns, whether it be not tracking a man, getting stretched a bit on defense,” Fuller said.
While an unknowing observer might be quick to point the finger at the back four, the team understands that’s not the case.
“We’ve come to be more defensively minded as the season’s went on,” junior captain Jonny Dolezal said. “It’s important that our guys up front are forcing the ball into bad spots, because it lets us win the ball higher up the field.”
The Quakers need their strikers, junior Stephen Baker and sophomore Duke Lacroix, to defend as well as score.
“Defending starts on the front line. Everybody has a role to play,” Fuller said.
Early in the season, while Penn was still learning to play defense as one cohesive unit, the Red and Blue’s biggest issue was tactical.
“I didn’t think we were putting enough pressure on the ball,” Fuller said. “We were giving our opponents too much time and space to play with.”
From the Princeton tournament onward, the Quakers have taken steps to shore up their back line — including a formation change — that have led them to win the ball further from their net.
Despite the strategic changes made by the coaching staff, numerous injuries still kept Penn from being able to play its best 11.
Ever since the Rider game, when the team shifted defensive formations, the Red and Blue have been healthy for the most part. Both factors have led to a boost in their defense.
In the four games including Rider and since, they’ve allowed eight goals for a two goal per game average, down from the average they held for the first seven games of the season, which was just under three per game.
Despite the injuries and the youth, the Quakers still played their opponents close, losing to then-No. 12 Georgetown and then-No. 22 Cornell by just one goal apiece.
“There isn’t a game on the schedule where we wouldn’t love another chance to play them again,” Fuller said.
Last week’s match against Columbia serves as a perfect example. The Quakers played a strong 90 minutes, and even though they allowed a goal, Dolezal believes it wasn’t like the goals they had been giving up at the beginning of the season, when the ball often crept too deep in their end.
Fuller feels the second half of the Columbia game was the best the team has played all season.
While the result was a loss, if the Quakers have learned anything from this trying year, it’s that Rome — or in this case, a winning season — wasn’t built in a day.
“You don’t dig yourself out of a hole with a giant leap,” Fuller said. “Just one step at a time.”
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