For Penn men’s soccer, missing out on the Ivy League championship does not mean the season is over.
The Quakers, usually a powerhouse in the Ivy League, are en route to their second consecutive non-championship season. Nonetheless, the Red and Blue (2-8-2, 1-2-1 Ivy) will look to finish the season strong by winning their final four matches.
The first of those will come on Saturday when Penn travels to Providence, R.I., for a conference matchup against Brown.
And even though the team is out of contention for the Ivy League championship, coach Rudy Fuller has every intention of doing what it takes to win out.
“What it comes down to is the culture and the habits of the program have to stay consistent,” he said. “You can’t just be at your best or try on 72-degree sunny days or when there’s something to play for.”
Just like any coach who wants to finish strongly in an unsuccessful season, Fuller has faced the challenge of wanting to give his seniors a few more starts before they graduate while affording his younger players more experience on the field in in-game situations. In response to this challenge, Fuller has held firm on his primary strategy: Win first.
“As always, we’re going to play the best 11, regardless of where they are in their career, to try and help us win the game,” Fuller said.
In order to beat Brown (8-5-1, 2-1-1), which has excelled on defense throughout the year, the Quakers will once again look for more goals from their offense.
In terms of chances, Penn has had a pretty standard number of shots, but it is the team’s shot percentage (seven percent as opposed to its average of 11 percent over the past five years) that clearly pinpoints the team’s misfortune on offense.
“The chances have been there. We’ve created chances. It’s just that final pass, that final shot, that hasn’t really gone our way,” senior midfielder James Rushton said. “If you keep getting the chances the goals will come.”
Coming into this season, it was well known that the team would have its growing pains with so many new young starters, many of whom struggled out of the gate. But the Quakers’ freshmen and sophomores have since been some of the top performers on the team, both on offense and defense.
In fact, none of the team’s seniors or juniors have scored a goal this year. Of course, this means that Penn has a bright future on offense.
On defense, the Quakers will look to their backs to hold Brown’s scoring in check. A strong mix of youth and experience, Penn’s backfield has been one of the team’s strong points to date and will look to keep its success going against a Brown team that has been good but not great at finding the back of the net.
Meanwhile, the goalkeeping situation for Penn seems to be as cloudy as ever. After a very successful season in 2014, senior goalkeeper Max Polkinhorne started the season strongly but sustained an injury and lost his job to fellow senior Nick Savino upon returning. In turn, Savino shortly lost the starting spot thereafter.
Since then, Polkinhorne has started one game, but the majority of play lately has been given to freshman Etan Mabourakh. One of the top goalkeeper recruits in the nation in 2014, Mabourakh was given the opportunity to start and has played well as of late, even if the results have not been in his favor.
“It’s been a very unique situation for all of us, to have four goalkeepers of the quality we have, and that’s going to continue in the years ahead,” Fuller said.
There’s no way around it — a lot remains unsettled for the Red and Blue. But with a games remaining, they have plenty of time to clear things up heading into next year.
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