It might not be the most widely publicized title in collegiate sports, but under the radar, Penn men’s soccer is one win away from capturing its first title of the year: The City 6 championship.
The City 6, which consists of Penn, Drexel, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova, has for years been crowning an annual champion in several sports — most prominently soccer. To earn the elusive title, the Quakers (3-3-5) will have to at least force a draw in Wednesday night’s clash against the Wildcats (6-5-2).
Both teams will also see Wednesday night as an opportunity to right a ship that has, for both teams, taken a turn south in the past week or two. Villanova and Penn have both failed to record a victory in the last two weeks ago.
During the sour stretch the past few times out, the Red and Blue have been tormented by a shaky defense, something that earlier in the season would have been considered a strong point. Opponents have netted eight goals in the Quakers’ past three games, a statistic that makes it hard for any team to win, no matter how prolific offensively.
“We are looking to improve at the back, and we are confident we can make some adjustments to shape it up,” Fuller said. “Against Dartmouth we were getting killed in transition, so we’ve talked about how we can prevent that going forward.”
Senior captain Matt Poplawski, who scored Penn’s lone goal in the 4-1 loss up at Dartmouth, echoed his coach’s comments.
“[Dartmouth] did a great job defending and pouncing on our mistakes,” Poplawski said. “We didn’t do a great job getting back into our spots defensively when that happened.”
Another point of concern for the Quakers is the stagnation on the offensive end of the field. While the Red and Blue did net a goal on Saturday, they only managed five shots on the night. If Penn wants to dictate this crucial match against Villanova, they will have to do better up front.
“The glaring thing that’s been letting us down is our service,” Fuller said. “When crosses aren’t good enough, our forwards don’t even have a chance to score.”
This is a tricky period for the young, talented Penn team. Having started the season so brightly, conference success has not come to fruition in the way that supporters hoped it would. Despite the recent dip in form, Fuller insists the team’s morale remains as high as ever.
“We’re fortunate to have a very confident group of guys, and we know that these last couple games aren’t entirely indicative of the work we’ve put in all season,” Fuller said. “I don’t have to say much of anything to keep these men motivated.”
Poplawski agreed with Fuller, also noting the strong self-motivation within the team.
“Of course we’re still zeroed in,” Poplawski said. “We’ve talked about it all year, the next game is always the most important game. Our focus is on Villanova and winning this City 6 championship.”
One thing is for sure — both teams will come out hungrier than ever on Wednesday night.
“You have two teams that take a lot of pride in being the best team in the city,” Fuller said.
“We believe that with the work we’ve put in, we can beat almost anybody on any day.”
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