Penn men’s soccer started off Ivy League play with a bang yesterday.
In a back-and-forth overtime affair, the Red and Blue picked up a key 2-1 road victory over Cornell.
Right from the opening whistle, the intensity and importance of the match was on display with fouls and cards being assessed evenly to both sides. Not evidenced from the match’s outset, however, was just how close the score would be, as Penn dominated the first twenty minutes.
Early fouls by Cornell led to early chances for the Ivy League’s leading scorer, Penn (3-1-4, 1-0 Ivy) senior forward Alec Neumann. Fortunately for Cornell (0-8-2), those early chances were foiled by the strong play of Cornell freshman goalkeeper Ryan Shellow. Shellow’s impressive play would continue for the entirety of the half while Cornell began to raise its level, culminating in a scoreless draw at the break.
Right out of halftime, it was apparent that Penn was the team with the fresh legs, as they took the play to the Big Red immediately. The fruits of their labor were enjoyed right away, as junior back Sam Wancowicz lofted a beautiful ball to a waiting Joe Swenson in the box, who, while holding off multiple defenders, delivered a no-look feed to a cutting Neumann, giving the Quakers the lead in the 47th minute.
The connection between Swenson, last year’s team MVP, and Neumann, this year’s leading scorer, was so smooth that it’s as if the duo has been playing together their entire lives — in actuality, Swenson transferred from UConn last year and Neumann hasn’t been fully healthy until this season.
“We’ve kind of figured out each other. We have a connection,” Swenson said.
Led by the active play of Swenson in the midfield, Penn appeared to be the dominant team, but a lack of success on corner kicks and other set pieces allowed Cornell to keep things close, trailing by only one.
Finally, in the 86th minute, Cornell took advantage of Penn’s mistakes when Jack Ferguson headed the ball past Penn’s Etan Mabourakh on a perfect cross from Cornell’s most dynamic player, Ryan Watters, shifting the complexion of the game. Heading to sudden victory overtime, momentum clearly sided with the Big Red.
But the Penn team that came to the pitch for overtime was not the same team that left for the sidelines at the end of regulation. Rather, they seemed revitalized, returning to the attacking style with which they opened both halves.
“Going into overtime, in a weird sort of way, the Cornell goal motivated us even further,” coach Rudy Fuller said. “There was a bit of anger.”
That motivation was utilized in the first ten minutes of overtime with aggressive attacks on goal coming from all corners of the field. Neither team was content with a tie, so the pace of play picked up substantially. With Penn’s abundance of offensive skill, this change in pace worked in their favor.
As is often the case in the most important moments of the game, the best players on the field stepped up, and luckily for Penn, the two best players both happened to be wearing red and blue striped kits.
Once again, it was the Swenson to Neumann combination that burned the Big Red and ultimately sealed the victory for the Quakers with Swenson firing in a laser of a cross from the right side that was expertly finished by Neumann on the left.
“To get out of the gates with a win in the first game is really important. It puts us in the driver’s seat right out of the gate,” Fuller said.
Swenson was quick to emphasize his coach’s point.
“We put ourselves in a good position, and we’re ready for Columbia on Saturday.”
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