Will the residual holiness of the papal visit bless Penn men’s soccer with its first win of the season?
On Tuesday, two days after Pope Francis’ departure, the Quakers will make the short trip to Saint Joseph’s to take on the Hawks.
The teams share a long, storied rivalry, and Tuesday marks the 28th edition of this Philadelphia Soccer Six matchup. Penn (0-5-1) has historically dominated the series, with an all-time record of 24-4-0 against Saint Joe’s (2-6-1), including a thrilling overtime win against the Hawks a year ago.
In that matchup, the Quakers put two in the back of the net, which is double their total from this year so far.
The Red and Blue enter Tuesday’s match after suffering a 2-0 defeat to No. 21 Penn State, a loss that proved both disappointing and encouraging for the winless (and nearly scoreless) Quakers. Penn, falling victim to a converted penalty kick in the first half, improved drastically as the match wore on, generating many scoring chances after the break.
“I thought in the game against Penn State, quite honestly, our guys deserved more out of it,” coach Rudy Fuller said. “I felt like we deserved a result. I think we put in a complete game.”
Freshman Jerel Blades was particularly impressive, as he used his speed to slice through the left wing of the Penn State defense. His brilliance on the ball resulted in many offensive opportunities for the Quakers, including a near-penalty late in the second half.
Fuller sees Blades’ showing as a sign of things to come for the rookie.
“If that’s his baseline performance going forward, it really bodes well for his future,” he said. “It was a good confidence boost for him and for this team.”
Saint Joe’s, however, possesses a dynamic and explosive threat of its own. Senior forward Emmanuel Temeh, the reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Week, has been a force for the Hawks, racking up four goals and nine points in the early stages of the season.
Penn, however, is not daunted by Temeh’s offensive prowess.
“We have a lot of confidence in our back line and our keepers,” senior back James Rushton said. “We’re not going to throw anything too special at [Temeh]. We’re just going to try to play our game, and I’m sure it’ll work out fine.”
Rushton and his teammates, despite their confidence, also understand the implications of Tuesday’s game. For both teams, this will be the second and final match for seeding within the Philadelphia Soccer Six, a collective that also includes La Salle, Drexel, Villanova and Temple.
“Knowing that they are a Philly team always make it a rivalry,” Rushton said. “We want to be the best team in the city, so when we go up against a Philly team there’s always that extra motivation to win.”
While the coaches and players insist on optimism going into the match, there are still question marks that loom large over the Red and Blue.
It is still unknown whether defensive stalwart Matt Poplawski or starting goalkeeper Max Polkinhorne will be available for Tuesday’s contest. The Quakers may have to overcome their absences to claim their first victory of the season.
Regardless, Penn’s offense will need to come to life if it has any hope of putting its first win on the board.
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