On Saturday, the players and coaches of Penn men’s soccer were greeted by friendly faces on their opponent’s sideline. But, on the field, no such affection could be found.
La Salle, coached by former Penn assistant Rob Irvine, looked to improve to a program-record 6-1-0 start.
The Quakers, on the other hand, were looking for their first win, having been held to a series of frustrating draws early on in the season.
Thanks to a late overtime goal from freshman Sam Hefter, however, it was the Red and Blue who achieved their objective, breaking open a scoreless match with a last-gasp 108th minute strike.
The Quakers (1-1-3), however, were far more powerful from the start, dominating possession and shot totals in the opening stretch. Just seven minutes into the match, senior Matt Poplawski sent a diving header off of a corner kick deflection skidding past the post.
Hefter, just 10 minutes after his entrance into the game, was set up nicely just inside the penalty box after some crafty give-and-go action with junior Sam Wancowicz. Hefter’s shot, however, skipped just wide after he failed to hit it cleanly with his right foot.
Penn’s offensive aggression was nearly rewarded when Wancowicz made a penetrating run across the right wing and sent a dangerous ball across goal to senior Alec Neumann. But La Salle goalkeeper and captain Matt Kirk made a brilliant save to prevent the opening goal.
The end of the first half foreshadowed a busy night for referee Lucas Feathers, as members of both teams engaged in a minor scuffle. Perhaps as a response to this increased physicality, La Salle noticeably increased their pace of play in the second half, tackling and running down balls with more gusto. But the Quakers continued to create more chances on goal than their opponent, ensuring that the Explorer’s senior goalie was constantly on his toes.
Kirk, however, was more than up to the challenge. 15 minutes into the second half, freshman sensation Dami Omitaomu dribbled through three defenders on the right edge of the penalty box when Kirk jumped off his line to swat the shot away. The senior quickly recovered to divert Poplawski’s careening shot off the deflection and dived again to block Omitaomu’s second shot off the rebound.
Kirk’s match-long heroics, which included a career-high 10 saves, kept La Salle in the match. But the newfound aggression of the Explorers boiled over into frustration and carelessness. Defender Zach Rutherford made a dangerous sliding tackle on freshman Aramis Kouzine in an attempt to repossess the ball, and, after the referee blew the whistle, the La Salle defender dribbled away, presumably to kill some time on the clock.
Poplawski, however, ran to retrieve the ball from Rutherford and in the process, it appeared that the defender forcefully grabbed the Penn senior by the neck. While Poplawski mockingly waved goodbye to his opponent, the home-field crowd cheered as Rutherford was shown a red card for violent conduct.
Playing with a man disadvantage, La Salle locked down defensively, beating back Quaker runs through the end of regulation. The first half of overtime was largely eventless, with both teams wary of each other’s counterattacking speed. The Quakers, however, demonstrated a greater sense of urgency in the second overtime period, determined to avoid yet another tie on the season.
The offense, led by Omitaomu and Wancowicz, finally broke through with just a few minutes remaining. A quick give and go between Wancowicz and freshman Brandon Bartel resulted in a brilliant cross across the box, which Hefter deposited to clinch the Quakers’ first win of the season.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.