You know the old saying, “new year, new me?”
Well, Penn men’s soccer is taking that to heart this brand new season.
Flip back the calendar a year, and the Quakers limped out of a 4-0 loss to a high-power American University team. 2016’s season opener against the Eagles on Friday night, however, was a whole different affair.
The Red and Blue held on to a 2-2 draw at Rhodes Field in the end against the same team that drew against nationally-ranked No. 19 South Florida just a week ago. The result was both disappointing for the Eagles (1-0-2) and impressive for the Quakers (0-0-1), who looked a much better side than last year’s edition.
“It was a big challenge for our guys,” head coach Rudy Fuller said, “but our guys rose to the challenge.”
The Quakers started the game with a series of nervy touches and errant passes, showing shades of last year, but everything changed in the 37th minute when junior right back Sam Wancowicz chested down a long ball and rifled it past the American keeper to put his team up 1-0.
“I decided, ‘why not?’” Wancowicz said, “tried to go through a couple people, I took a shot, and fortunately, it went in.”
Just a few minutes later, with the game dying down towards halftime, the Eagles capitalized on a corner kick to level the game at 1-1. Penn’s defence switched off a bit, leaving an Eagle with a free header that he duly converted.
“With that lack of communication, switching off at the corner kick, we should have been 1-0 up at halftime,” Wancowicz lamented.
After halftime, the Quakers were put under a long period of pressure, which ultimately led to an American goal in the 53rd minute. Rather than let their chins down, though, the team was quick to respond.
Freshman debutant Dami Omitaomu ran down the wing after the restart, beat his opponent into the box, and was then dragged down by him, winning his side a penalty kick. Senior forward Alec Neumann put the penalty into the back of the net to tie the game up again at 2-2. While there were more chances, the scoreline ultimately held for the rest of regulation and the two overtime periods.
“We would love to have finished out with a win,” Omitaomu said. “But this is a good way to build. We will learn from this, and move on.”
The team has a tough schedule coming up, with nationally ranked opponents waiting in the wings. But if Friday’s match was anything to go by, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see them get a result or two.
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