Just when it seemed like the luck for the Penn men’s soccer team couldn’t get any worse, Saturday night at Rhodes Field came to pass.
In the midst of the Quakers’ 1-0 loss, their seventh defeat by one goal, star forward Duke Lacroix went down with a leg injury early in the second half that could lead to trouble for the Red and Blue moving forward.
Lacroix had been the most potent part of Penn’s attack in the first half — his fantastic shot in the 18th minute was barely tipped over the crossbar by Columbia goalkeeper Kyle Jackson.
However, despite Lacroix’s injury, the Red and Blue (2-9, 0-2 Ivy) continued to attack Columbia (3-6-1, 1-1 Ivy), coming close to tying the game in the final minutes.
“As good a player as Duke is, we still ran the game without him on the field,” coach Rudy Fuller said. “I thought we were in complete control the entire [second half].”
Columbia’s tally came off a rebound in the 38th minute from Jack Gagne, who scored his first goal of the season. But in the second half, Penn controlled play, reeling off seven shots, led by the powerful attack of Travis Cantrell and Stephen Baker.
The team’s best opportunity came in the 80th minute, when Cantrell corralled a Penn header onto his foot and directed the ball towards the inside of the far left post. But Jackson, strong the entire night, made a diving save to prevent an equalizer.
In the final four minutes, the Quakers generated multiple opportunities as their desperate offense came alive, resulting in chances for Cantrell and Baker along with a Penn corner kick that had the fans on the edge of their seats with 10 seconds to go. But the tying goal never came.
In many ways, the game was a microcosm of Penn’s season — the team fell behind, came close to a comeback, yet lost by one goal.
Fortunately for Penn, in the same game that Lacroix went down, sophomore Max Kurtzman returned from injury and was back in net, where he made three saves.
“I thought Max did fine. He didn’t have to make any big saves, which is a good sign,” Fuller said. “He plays with a lot of confidence and he did what he needed to do.”
Kurtzman was strong in goal all night, and it was the first game all season in which the Quakers yielded fewer than two goals. Kurtzman also helped lead Penn’s offensive attack in the final minute with strong kicks to set up the team’s closing opportunities.
Even with the strong showing by the Red and Blue offense in the second half, the team is in danger of continuing its slide without the presence of Lacroix at Dartmouth on Saturday. Despite the challenge that awaits, the team remains optimistic.
“We just need to keep staying positive, keep building each other up,” Baker said. “We’re in every single game. We’re just on the wrong side of a one-goal game and we just need to find a way to be on the opposite side of that.”