A trip to Nebraska is an intriguing prospect. It’s hard to know what to expect — there’s really not a whole lot there.
Except for an NCAA powerhouse in men’s soccer, that is.
Penn men’s soccer took a quick voyage to Omaha, Neb. to face off against No. 14 Creighton on Friday night and another strong team in Nebraska-Omaha on Sunday.
Most would have predicted the Quakers’ 3-0 loss to Creighton, but the performance was better than the result suggested, according to coach Rudy Fuller. The team’s Sunday fixture against Omaha went better, ultimately ending in a 2-2 draw after overtime.
Penn (0-1-3) remains winless through four matches, but four tough opponents means that the team has been playing well to earn three results. And after going up twice in Sunday’s draw at Omaha, Fuller expressed disappointment that they couldn’t snatch their first win.
“We want to win any game we play, so we’re certainly not satisfied with it,” he said, “but I think the effort that all the guys put forward tonight was a good one.”
One man who stood out for the Red and Blue was junior back Sam Wancowicz. The fullback scored his team’s second of the match and his second of the season in what has become a routine sight, seeing him storming up the pitch and contributing in attack.
“Sam has done a really good job,” Fuller said. “He’s put himself in really good spots. But I think if you talk to him, he’d be more concerned with giving up two goals rather than the goal he scored.”
The first goal against Penn came from a high-class free kick that no one could have stopped, but the second goal came from what Fuller has highlighted as a recurring issue for his team — costly defensive miscues. Creighton’s second goal on Friday was also seen by the coach as a preventable score.
In addition to the mistakes that caused punishment on the scoreboard, another defensive shortcoming occurred Sunday when sophomore Erik Swenson was sent off for a strong tackle.
Penn held on to a tie, as sophomore keeper Etan Mabourakh made five saves, including a crucial one with just a minute left to play in the second overtime period. But in order for those draws to turn to wins, the Quakers will have to cut out their generosity on defense.
“We feel like each opportunity we get, we’re getting closer and closer [to winning],” Fuller said. “We feel good about it. So are we happy that we’re 0-1-3? No. I think if you asked anybody on our team, they’ll feel like any one of those three draws could have been a win. So we’re not happy about that, but at the same time, we feel like we’ve been in every game, and we’ve had an opportunity to win at least three of those four games.”
The only one of the four games the Quakers weren’t close to winning was the one against their toughest opponent, Friday’s match against Creighton (2-1-1). But as Fuller argued, the game shouldn’t have ended up 3-0.
“As we looked at the game overall, the score didn’t really reflect the game. I felt like they deserved to win, they took their chances well, but I didn’t think it was a 3-0 game by any stretch.”
He was right about the Bluejays taking their chances well, at least — Penn didn’t give up a single shot until the 35th minute, when a wicked deflection found the back of the net. Ultimately, that was the difference between the top-25 side and the Ivy League team: a bit of luck and enough quality to finish their occasional chances. Still, though, Fuller insisted that the team came out of the weekend for the better.
“The guys are coming out of the weekend feeling much better about where we are as a team. Each day we’re getting better.
“If anything, this group last year probably would’ve been 0-4 at this point,” he continued.
It’s promising that the team, which clearly isn’t firing on all cylinders yet, has still managed to put on good performances against good teams. In Fuller’s mind, that bodes well for the upcoming Ivy League season.
“We don’t want to be our best in the middle of September. We want to be our best as we get to October and November.”
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