Penn men’s soccer followed I-476 with the goal of reaching Bethlehem. But, unlike the three wise men, their purpose was to take and not to give.
Lehigh’s Ulrich Sports Complex played host to a tightly-contested match between two Pennsylvania teams with middling records. Penn, having recorded its first win of the season on Saturday against La Salle, hoped to extend their stretch of quality soccer while the Mountain Hawks were looking for redemption following a 2-1 loss to Robert Morris.
The result was an incredibly tense match, with quick swings of momentum fueled by potent counterattacks from both sides. But, the game ended in a 1-1 draw after two overtime periods, an outcome emblematic of the Quakers’ season so far.
The first half was largely uneventful, with neither side managing to record many meaningful chances on goal. Sophomore goalkeeper Etan Mabourakh continued his strong start to the season by cutting off angles and attacking the ball off of Lehigh set pieces. The Mountain Hawks (2-4-1) came closest to scoring, with junior Kevin Klinkenberg ripping a shot off the post in the 20th minute.
The second half, however, featured nearly constant end-to-end movement. Penn (1-1-4) utilized versatile junior right back Sam Wancowicz, whose ability to evade defenders opened space for his more offensively minded comrades. One of these runs resulted in a hard-hit shot from freshman behemoth Aramis Kouzine that Lehigh’s goalie barely deflected. The Mountain Hawks, however, responded in kind, aggressively sending long balls to their forwards in the hope of catching Penn’s defense unawares.
Despite their aerial aggression, Lehigh’s first goal resulted from an intricate series of quick passes and perfectly timed runs. Mabourakh’s sliding attempt was to no avail, as junior Jack Miskel drilled a low shot into the center of the net. But, instead of bowing their heads in defeat, the Quakers quickly regrouped and equalized less than a minute after. Freshman Dami Omitaomu crossed the ball to junior Austin Kuhn, who buried it with a one-timed shot.
After this late-game excitement, however, neither side managed to break the deadlock. Omitaomu came the closest, as he lasered a beautiful shot towards the top-left corner of the goal, which freshman goalkeeper Will Smith miraculously saved.
So, as the Quakers trudged off the field with yet another draw under their cleats, the tone amongst the players and coaches was one of disappointment.
“I thought they showed some resiliency and grit with that late equalizer. It was obviously a great response in a difficult situation. But in the end we were there to try to get the ‘W’ and we didn’t,” Penn coach Rudy Fuller said.
Nevertheless, this recent stretch of double-overtime games provides valuable experience to a team that is filled with youngsters.
“I think that those guys have been able to deal with tough situations and perform well. I think with each game we get better and the last two games we’ve played well. We’re on the right track and we’re getting closer to the next level,” senior Alec Neumann commented.
Despite the reliance on young players like Omitaomu, Kouzine and fellow freshman attacker Sam Hefter, Fuller insisted that it will be the veterans and their leadership that will turn these close, tense matches into wins rather than draws.
“We want to rely on guys like Alec Neumann, Matt Poplawski, Sam Wancowicz. Guys who’ve been there, who have won Ivy League titles. We don’t want to put too much expectations on the younger guys right now,” Fuller remarked.
While Penn’s trip to the promised land was not entirely fruitful, there is certainly reason to hope for better results in the future.
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