Penn men’s soccer, still nursing the wounds of last season, nevertheless enters a new year with optimism and a set of fresh, young faces who will look to make their mark on the field. The team attempts to move on from a disastrous spate of play over the course of 2015, during which the Quakers compiled a record of 3-11-3 and recorded just one win against an Ivy League opponent.
The Red and Blue, however, will restore some bite to their toothless offense through the addition of an attack-minded recruiting class. Penn coach Rudy Fuller and his staff focused heavily on bringing in proven scorers and creators to help a team that scored just one goal through the first seven matches of last season. Out of the five freshmen, four are midfielders and forwards, a number that is far from accidental.
“The group that were freshmen last year was really focused on the back half, on the midfield back,” Fuller said. “When we were going into [recruiting] for the 2016 recruits, we really felt like we had to fill some holes and give use some depth in the attacking half.”
Fuller attributes last year’s dearth of production to the lack of “natural attacking players,” with only sophomore Jerel Blades and senior captain Alec Neumann demonstrating genuine offensive instincts.
This year, those players will be joined by the likes of freshmen Dami Omitaomu, Sam Hefter and Arty Kouzine, who all excel at creating and converting scoring opportunities.
Omitaomu is a particularly intriguing addition. Despite his diminutive stature, he is a menace on the flank, using his exceptional speed to regularly burn defenders. Omitaomu’s main aim as an attacking midfielder, however, is to get his teammates involved.
“My biggest strength as an offensive player is my speed and craftiness on the ball, which I like to use to get other people into the play,” the Nigerian-born Omitaomu said. “Even though the collegiate game is more physical, I can use my speed to get defenders on their heels.”
With Blades and Omitaomu on the field simultaneously, the Red and Blue can outrun anyone, a feature that excites Fuller and, as he says, makes everything a little bit easier.
“Speed kills,” Fuller said. “Speed can create something out of nothing and I think that Dami and Jerel both have it. But I also think the two of them are very different players. Even though they both have pace, I think Jerel is really good at running behind and getting on the end of things and Dami is a little bit more slippery. He’s a little bit better in tighter spaces and creating things off the dribble.”
Kouzine is another young player who will receive substantial playing time in Fuller’s system. The long-limbed forward, who is measured at 6-foot-2, towers over his freshman colleague Omitaomu, but is equally artful on the ball. While figuring to be a prime target in Penn’s aerial attack off of set pieces, Kouzine has also been described as a natural goalscorer.
“He’s a No. 9 target forward and he’s got deceptively soft feet. He’s very skilled for a guy his size,” commented Fuller. “And he has the good fortune of working with Alec Neumann, who’s been through the wars, who’s an Ivy League champion, who’s played a lot of minutes.”
“I’m kind of crafty when I’ve got bigger defenders on my back and I can turn them quite easily and beat them with pace,” Kouzine said. “I’d say I’m pretty versatile, I may not do everything perfect but I do everything pretty well.”
So with the introduction of these new forward-minded freshmen, hopes are high that the Red and Blue’s attacking machine will be firing on all cylinders this season.
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