When will the goal-barren start to the regular season end for Penn men’s soccer?
After dropping another game to Temple, 3-0, at home on Sunday, the Red and Blue look ahead to Wednesday’s matchup at Rhodes Field against Penn State, another opponent ranked in the top 25.
The No. 21 Nittany Lions come to University City seeking their fourth win of the season and hoping to bounce back after a 1-1 draw versus Ohio State on Sunday. A win against Penn State (3-1-2) would be the first victory for Penn (0-4-1) against their cross-state foes since 2008, a stretch that contains a four-game losing streak spanning across the past five seasons.
After a series of unconvincing displays both offensively and defensively, it is clear that something needs to change for the Quakers and fast.
“We need to continue to get better on both sides of the ball,” coach Rudy Fuller said. “The team needs to be more solid and sound defensively, but we also need to be aggressive and take more risks in the final third.”
A big factor in Penn’s recent struggles may be the large extent of squad turnover from last season to this season — nine of the 22 players are freshmen, with many seeing significant playing time in the past few matches.
Despite the large number of rookies, the team insists it has had no problems gelling together.
“From the first day it really felt like a family,” freshman Jerel Blades said. “The older guys are really welcoming, and when we step out onto the field, we’re all a part of the same unit.”
Blades also admitted that there are “new relationships being formed” and that it’s taking time to develop them to their fullest potential.
“It’s been a challenge — certainly not a negative, but definitely a challenge. It’s bound to happen any time you have new guys playing with each other.”
With so many young players playing important roles on the team, maybe it should not come as a surprise that the Red and Blue are starting the season so slowly.
Against Penn State, these freshmen, in addition to the rest of the Quakers’ squad, will look to stop the scoring prowess of star Nittany Lion striker Connor Maloney, who netted 10 goals last season. Although he has yet to put up the same numbers in 2015, Maloney will try to prey on a recently porous Penn defense. The Red and Blue will also have to look out for Penn State freshman Mac Curran, who has burst onto the scene with a team-leading two goals this season.
One bright spot heading into Wednesday’s match is the status of senior goalkeeper Max Polkinhorne, who sustained a head injury in the team’s Sept. 10 loss to Florida International. When asked for an update on the injury, Fuller confirmed that Polkinhorne is “good to go” for Penn State.
If last year’s encounter is any indication, Polkinhorne will be kept busy in the net for the Quakers following their grueling 6-2 loss at the hands of the Nittany Lions in 2014. If Penn expects anything different in this year’s clash, the team will need to see a much different effort on Wednesday than observed on Sunday.
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