Phillips | Back (line) to the future for Penn soccer
September 11, 2013, 10:42 am · Updated September 11, 2013, 10:34 pm·
It’s easy to look at Penn men’s soccer’s two shutouts in the opening weekend of the season and write them off due to the quality of opponents the Red and Blue took on.
And for sure, there’s definitely a hesitance with which one must approach the squad’s dominance. But looking back historically, starting off the season with two shutouts means good things for Penn.
Since 2004, the Quakers have twice started the season with two straight shutout victories, once in 2005-2006 and again in 2010-2011.
In both cases, Penn entered the ranks of the top 25. The 2005 squad was ranked 18th going into its first Ivy game against Cornell on Oct 1. That team lost four Ivy games though after raising their hopes up.
The 2010 team was much more successful. Starting off the season with four straight wins, the Quakers were ranked in the top 25 from Sept. 17 to Nov. 13, getting as high up in the polls as 13th heading into their Nov. 6 game against Princeton.
That team earned a bid to the NCAA tournament and excitingly made it into the second round after upsetting Bucknell, 1-0, in overtime.
Penn has quite a bit in common with that 2010 squad.
For starters, the 2010 Quakers valued defense over all else. After last season, in which the current Penn squad learned what happens when its defense isn’t as strong as it can be, the team has started the year with the mentality that good offense comes from good defense.
After Penn’s first win on Friday night, coach Rudy Fuller said, “The most important thing was the shutout.”
This is a team focused on defense, a team that spent last year figuring out the right combinations on the back line that will work best to protect senior Tyler Kinn in goal. While the Quakers of this year may not be able to pull out as many shutouts as the 2010 version, they will be closer to that 2010 squad than the team from last season, one that failed to put a shutout in the books over the course of the entire year.
Speaking of Tyler Kinn, the keeper is another reason that naysayers claim that this team won’t compete in the Ivy League. And again, this train of thought is logical. Kinn has a fair number of starts under his belt, but last year his stats didn’t reflect those of a lockdown keeper, regardless of what kind of defense he had in front of him.
But if you take a look at Ben Berg, the goalkeeper that led Penn to the NCAAs in 2010, his numbers in 2009 weren’t fantastic either.
In between junior and senior year, he made the leap, going from being a good keeper to being rock solid between the pipes.
The experience one gains from getting playtime is immeasurable.
“I was able to read situations a lot better this year from having seen them last year outside of the training grounds,” Berg told The Daily Pennsylvanian back in 2010. “[I was] trying to make plays on my own when instead I maybe should have let the back four take care of it.”
What we’ve heard from Kinn is much of the same.
Of his time in goal last year, “they gave me a feel for what the college game is like,” Kinn said. “And I’ll be able to, when Ivy League play rolls around, be better acclimated to the physical style of play and just the game situation. There’s no way you can really prepare for a game without being in one.”
It’s not just in goal and on defense where there are similarities. Now a senior, Stephen Baker enjoyed arguably his best collegiate season in 2010, netting eight goals to lead the team. As a whole, the Quakers only scored 27 goals that year.
With the firepower of Baker and junior Duke Lacroix, this team could be more explosive than that 2010 unit.
But the Quakers know that this strong start means nothing if they can’t back it up as the season goes on.
Penn has two roads it can now head down, the path of the 2005 team, in which the Quakers failed to live up to expectations, or the NCAA-tournament trip that the 2010 squad enjoyed. The choice is theirs.