For Penn men’s soccer, Wednesday's game was about a lot more than the score. In a game where the squad did most things right, the Quakers (0-5-1) could not come away with a win over No. 21 Penn State, falling 3-0.
The Red and Blue have yet to snap an 11-game winless streak that dates back to October 2014. Nonetheless, the team’s play was inspiring enough to earn coach Rudy Fuller’s praises, calling it a “big step in the right direction.”
After conceding two early controversial goals, the Quakers' defense had an awakening of sorts and would go on to allow only two shots in the second frame. A unit filled with young starters — the 22-man roster boasts nine freshmen — the defense has had some growing pains but looks to be hitting its stride at the moment.
When asked about the backs’ performance, Fuller had mostly positive sentiments.
“I think they’re growing. We grew up a lot tonight,” Fuller said. “We had a word with them at halftime and essentially told a lot of these young guys: ‘You’re not freshmen anymore. Youth isn’t an excuse. We’re six, seven games into our season, now you gotta step up and take on a bigger role.’ And I think they did.”
After a mostly lackluster first half, Penn came out firing in the second half, outshooting the Nittany Lions (4-1-2), 7-2. It was an offensive outburst in a season characterized best for a lack of such an aggressive on-field attack. Of the team’s 38 shots in six games, 12 of them came against Penn State. Clearly something is turning around for the Quakers on the pitch.
Performances like the on the Red and Blue put up on Wednesday are not out of line with the expectations the team laid out for itself earlier this season. Fuller and the attackers knew that this was a revamped team and understood that the forwards and midfielders would need time to acclimate to one another.
According to junior attack Alex Neumann, the offense is just getting started.
“We knew at the beginning of the year that the offense was going to take a little bit of time,” he said. “Now you’re seeing what can come from it and it’s coming just in time for Saint Joe’s and the Ivies.”
The Quakers finished the game with a 10-minute sequence filled with quality chances, but they could not bury one in the net. In that span the team saw junior midfielder and captain Matt Poplawski go down, leaving the game with an apparent leg injury. As one of the team’s few returning starters from 2014, a speedy return is imperative.
Perhaps Fuller summarized the loss best: “pleased with the performance, disappointed in the result.” He notes that the team still needs to work on burying chances on offense and not allowing opposing attackers to have time or space.
Nevertheless, Fuller is proud of his team and noticed that his team appears more confident. They will look to turn this newfound confidence into a win against Saint Joseph’s on Tuesday before they start Ivy League play in two weekends.
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