In the words of Eminem, “Kinda feels like deja vu.”
As Penn men’s soccer prepares to take on Columbia in New York over fall break this weekend, the team finds itself in an eerily familiar situation.
“Columbia has always been a difficult place to get a result,” coach Rudy Fuller said. “It’s going to be a good challenge for us to go up there and get one.”
But the familiarity of the situation goes beyond the Lions’ persisting talent.
Not only is Columbia (4-2-1, 0-1-0 Ivy) still relevant, but the timing of the game is identical to that of two years ago. Also identical? The record of the Red and Blue.
Penn (2-5-1, 1-0-0) started off the season with many new faces and without much success, losing five of their first six games. Clearly they were unsatisfied with the results.
“We are definitely young,” junior captain Alec Neumann said. “But I think we’ve gotten a firm grasp of who we are, especially in the past few games.”
Last week, the Red and Blue took their first win over Saint Joe’s, 3-0. The team showed that it was no one-hit wonder with a follow-up win in its home and Ivy opener against Cornell putting its current record at 2-5-1.
“Sometimes you need luck on your side,” Neumann said. “But I think luck comes from the work that we put in.”
And the work clearly paid off in the Quakers’ past two contests.
Flashback to two seasons ago. On Oct. 12, 2013, Penn was traveling to New York that weekend with two consecutive wins under its belt, the first against Philly foe, Drexel, and the second over Cornell at the home Ivy opener. These two wins followed six successive losses in the Quakers’ out of conference schedule.
Sounds pretty similar.
While on paper the similarities are strikingly obvious, how true are they in reality?
“The team two years ago was an older, more experienced team,” Fuller said. “So they had a greater sense of togetherness and chemistry and that bond was already strong, whereas I think we are still finding that with this group.
“This year’s team is a more talented team top to bottom, a deeper team, whereas they are probably not as far along as a team in terms of chemistry on field and off and being in rhythm this point in the season.”
It is not hard to understand why this squad’s chemistry is not where the team was this time two years ago. With 10 new faces on the roster out of the 22 total, Penn’s group is fresh; a fact that brings many benefits as well as difficulties.
“When you look at our roster of 22 guys I think 21 of them have seen time in a game, which is a rarity typically at this point in the season if you’ve got a roster 22-25,” Fuller said. “I think this is a deeper, more talented team.”
Back in 2013, Penn wrestled the Light Blue to a 0-0 draw. Moving on from that trip to New York, the Red and Blue finished the season with only one Ivy loss, falling to Brown, 2-1, in double overtime. Their 5-1-1 Ivy record secured Penn the league and a first-round NCAA game at home.
The first step on that road will be holding the Lions back, which will be a challenge given Columbia’s strong start to the season this year.
“Columbia has always been a dark horse for me for the Ivy title,” Fuller said. “They hadn’t put it together the past few years but this year they got off to a really good start in the season.”
What should we expect for this season’s match up?
“They are in similar spots,” Fuller said. “It’s a really talented group, it remains to be seen if they can come together and do the same thing.”
And only time will tell.
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