A lapse in concentration and a few wasted opportunities.
That’s all that separated Penn men’s soccer from victory against a tough Rutgers squad in Tuesday night’s match.
As the Quakers (2-7-1) walked off the field following a 2-0 loss to the Scarlet Knights (7-4-1), the Red and Blue displayed clear signs of frustration following a performance that on another day may have earned a better final result.
The game began slowly, with Penn struggling to settle in and maintain possession.
“It was a quiet first half,” coach Rudy Fuller admitted. “We were putting ourselves in bad spots defensively, giving the ball away when we should have kept it.”
The Quakers paid the price for the sloppy defending in the 19th minute, when Rutgers defender Drew Morgan scored off a corner kick to make it 1-0.
“We were too relaxed in the box,” Penn sophomore midfielder Joe Swenson said. “We need to work on that.”
“It was a miscommunication,” freshman defender Gavin Barger added. “Their guy got away from one of our guys, so we have to make sure we stay marked in the box.”
The goal served as a wake-up call for the Quakers, with play picking up following the Rutgers score. However, no serious threats were made on goal by either team, and at halftime the score remained 1-0.
At the half, Fuller replaced starting senior goalkeeper Max Polkinhorne with freshman Etan Mabourakh, a move that was pre-planned by Fuller before the game despite Fuller’s previous indications that senior Nick Savino would get the nod.
“Nick had a good run of games in goal this past month,” Fuller explained. “We felt this was a good opportunity to get both Max and Etan some minutes.”
Penn built on the momentum it ended the half with but continued to struggle to finish opportunities.
An Alec Neumann equalizer seemed to hit the back of the net in the 65th minute, only to be disallowed after a contentious offside decision.
Rutgers nearly doubled the advantage in the 70th minute with a rocketing free kick from the right boot of captain Mitchell Taintor, requiring a diving save from Mabourakh to keep the ball out.
In the end, it was an all-too-familiar story for the Red and Blue, with a lack of offensive incisiveness leading to a second consecutive defeat. The Scarlet Knights added a second goal in the 90th minute by virtue of a brilliant solo effort from forward Jason Wright, which made the score 2-0 and put the game out of reach.
“This wasn’t the result we wanted, but things are starting to come together,” Swenson said. “It’s just one more pass that’s missing right now.”
“It’s something we can build on,” Barger added. “In the second half we were all over them. We need to eliminate our careless mistakes.”
However, to Fuller, the performance can only go so far.
“We can talk about performance all we want, but in the end it’s about winning games. It was a better performance than this weekend, but we need the results.”
When all is said and done, this loss can be seen as a learning experience for the young Penn roster that started eight underclassmen Tuesday night, and Fuller acknowledged as much.
“We’re still growing up and learning what it takes to win against great teams.”
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