In 2008 and 2013, Rob Irvine was on the sideline as Penn men’s soccer won the Ivy League Championship. After an eight-year tenure from 2006-14 as one of head coach Rudy Fuller’s most trusted assistants, Irvine will once again be coaching at Rhodes field.
This Saturday, however, he will be standing in front of the away team’s bench, as head coach of La Salle.
The Quakers (0-1-3) will be looking for their first win of the season as they take on the Explorers (5-1-0), a team that, despite hiring Irvine as their head coach barely a month before its opening game, has had a tremendous start to their year.
When asked about going up against each another, Irvine and Fuller both showed respect for the other as a coach and friend.
“I don’t think there is a better mentor than Rudy when it comes to learning how to handle players and get the most out of them,” Irvine said. “It was such a meaningful eight years at Penn and it really shaped me into the coach I am today.”
“I was thrilled when Rob got the job at La Salle," Fuller said. "Obviously we are very close. He’s a tremendous coach and when he was going through the interview process I told him and the La Salle people that he was one of the best young coaches in the country and if they were serious about winning, then he was the guy to do it.”
A few of the Penn players will be lining up against the coach who recruited them years before.
“Most of all I’m just excited to see him,” Matt Poplawski said. “Alec Neumann and I are the only ones who were recruited by him, but a lot of the guys know him. It will be fun to see him, but other than that it will be a normal game.”
The Quakers struggled last season with injuries to their upperclassmen, including several that made up the core of their midfield and forwards. The injuries were magnified by the youth on the team that had to quickly be thrust into the heart of Ivy League play. This season however, the sophomores have a year under their belt, everyone is healthy and their play reflects that.
The improved play has led Penn to three ties against solid opponents, but the Quakers are still left searching for that illustrious first win.
“I think when this team gets that first win, they’re going to get a taste for it and go on a bit of a run,” Fuller said. “This is a talented group and they need to get that win, but when they do it will feed itself.”
And despite the relationship between the two head coaches, once the opening whistles sounds, it will all be about winning.
“We both want to beat each other, we’re both really competitive guys. But we it comes down to it, it’s just Penn versus La Salle. Rob and I won't be scoring goals or making saves, so it’s just our job to prepare our teams as best we can and the game is for the players.”
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