As William Shakespeare once said, “All’s well that ends well.” But for Penn men’s soccer, there would be no such redemption.
In the final game of what can only be called a dismal season, the Quakers fell to Harvard, 6-0, in Massachusetts, capping off a campaign that began with such high expectations.
Although perhaps only dignity was on the line in this contest, a win could have potentially moved Penn (3-11-2, 1-5-1 Ivy) into fifth place depending on the Cornell and Princeton results. Such dreams were shattered before all the fans had even taken their seats, as the Crimson’s Christian Sady capitalized on a good ball in from Oliver White and beat freshman keeper Etan Mabourakh in the eighth minute.
Penn flirted with danger thereafter during a dangerous Harvard (9-6-2, 5-2-0) corner, one that resulted in a shot going just wide of the post. However, within five minutes of its first score, the Crimson doubled their lead, with the goal this time coming on an ambitious strike from range by Sady.
Left with little choice, Penn upped its aggression to try and erase the deep early hole. This offensive push left gaps in the back, and, in the 17th minute, a defensive miscommunication left Harvard’s Jake Freeman one-on-one with the keeper, past whom he slid the ball calmly to make it 3-0.
Unable to muster many opportunities going forward, the Quakers hoped to at least cling on until halftime and — possbly — come out revitalized. However, Harvard’s Tim Schmoll denied them even this, upping the margin to four in the 42nd minute and sending the Quakers back to the locker room in shambles.
Coming out to start the second half, coach Rudy Fuller opted to place senior Nick Savino, who was allowing an average of 1.50 goals per 90 minutes versus Mabourakh’s 1.61, between the posts. This plan unraveled only seven minutes into the period, when, upon scrambling for a loose ball, the newly introduced keeper was given a red card for allegedly taking out Freeman.
“I think it was a questionable call,” Fuller said. “I disagreed with the red card, and I don’t think it should have been given there, but that’s up to the referee’s discretion so we have to live with it.”
After being dismissed in his final game with the Quakers, Savino had to be replaced by classmate Max Polkinhorne, coming in off the frigid bench to try and stop the ensuing penalty kick. But Freeman stepped up to the spot and slotted it home.
Down to 10 men and behind five goals, the final whistle could not come soon enough for the despondent visitors. Penn was denied any mercy from the ever-pressing Harvard side, which put in its sixth of the match off the boot of senior Michael Innocenzi.
Not the fairy tale ending the Quakers were hoping for.
“Obviously, above all else, I’m disappointed for our six seniors, that we couldn’t do better for them in their last game wearing the Red and Blue,” Fuller said. “That’s not the way we wanted to send them out.”
With the only available option now being to look forward, junior Alec Neumann, who managed to get off two shots in the scoreless defeat, shed some optimistic light on the gloomy ending.
“That game will definitely leave a bitter taste in my mouth, but we’ll try to use it as motivation throughout the offseason,” Neumann said.
Two things to consider amidst all the consternation are injuries and freshmen. The team was ravaged by bad luck — seeing many long-time starters sidelined — and also had a crop of nine untested players on the squad.
Fuller explained how these two fates intertwined, perhaps revealing a smidgen of hope.
“Given the number of injuries we’ve had this year, a lot of guys got meaningful minutes, and I think that’s gonna pay off down the road,” Fuller said. “I think they have a lot of potential, but that can be a dangerous word.”
With his final season in sight, Neumann has set lofty goals for the team come 2016.
“Collectively we’ll try to do what we always do,” he said. “We always have a tough [non-conference] schedule, but we’ll definitely try to win the Ivy League and then make a run in the NCAA tournament.”
With eight match-free months on the horizon, it’s time for Penn to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the script for next year.
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