When nothing seems to be going your way, perhaps it’s time to forget about bad luck and start making your own.
For Penn men’s soccer, this message clearly hit home, culminating in a stunning 2-0 victory over Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville on Sunday night to snap a four game losing streak.
Under the lights of Rhodes Field, the Quakers (1-4) had no trouble finding the back of the net this time around, striking first in the 15th minute on senior Joe Swenson’s deft far-post finish of a rebounded shot. They then added insurance to that lead only ten minutes later off the left boot of freshman Jake Kohlbrenner, as he found the side netting from the top of the box.
Looking to turn things around, the visiting Cougars (3-4) came out firing on all cylinders in the second half. On the heels of its 1-0 victory at Princeton on Friday, SIUE treated their latest Ivy hosts to a barrage of 17 shots in the final 45 minutes.
Fortunately, the man in the cage for the Red and Blue, junior Etan Mabourakh, was equal to it, posting nine saves including highlight reel dives and point-blank stops on the goal line. When the final whistle sounded, the relieved Quakers swarmed their keeper to celebrate a much deserved first win of the 2017 campaign.
Now in his 20th season with Penn, coach Rudy Fuller affirmed this victory was a long time coming for talent-heavy squad.
“I think it’s long overdue. Like I’ve said before, I don’t think the performances themselves in these first four games have been poor. I think they’ve played well and just in moments have gotten stung,” Fuller said. “I felt that tonight was a more complete performance, from start to finish. Even though they were just coming at us for most of the second half, I felt the guys stuck together and kept their heads, and it was a deserved result.”
In only his second start of the season, Mabourakh certainly picked a suitable night to metaphorically stand on his head, pulling off seemingly impossible blocks in quick succession. Touting his defense’s resilience and focus during the barrages, he noted that the inaugural clean sheet will do wonders for the group’s mentality.
“They’re a good team, they went to the Sweet Sixteen last year, and [SIUE] knows how to compete,” Mabourakh said. “We knew they were gonna come out flying in the second half after we built a lead and put our foot on it. There are runs in a game, and you have to be able to withstand them — luckily, we did.”
For a team that just welcomed in a staggeringly-high 11 new faces, the impact of the freshmen for the Quakers will be a talking point all season. The first goal-scorer of the night is optimistic about the class of 2021 and is excited to watch them take on new roles within the squad.
“I think some of them are starting to get some confidence. Jake [Kohlbrenner] scored today and Wes [Maki] had some good chances. Everyone has been competing every day, and the freshmen look good which really helps,” Swenson said.
In a game as physical as soccer, recovery time cannot be overstated. So, with both teams having had a contest only a few days prior, fitness becomes a factor. For Penn, Thursday’s bitter 3-0 loss to Lehigh at home certainly wore down the players physically and mentally to some extent after being outshot by a factor of three. While junior Scott Forbes collected a career-high six saves in that disappointing fixture, it was Mabourakh who got the nod for this outing, pointing to a position battle worth keeping an eye on.
Moreover, Fuller has had to push his squad to the limits with these back-to-back matches. With the minutes quickly racking up, he has had to go to the bench perhaps more so than usual, benefitting the likes of younger, less experienced members of the team, such as sophomore forward Aramis Kouzine. Yet two Quakers, senior Sam Wancowicz and junior Erumuse Momoh, have yet to miss a single moment and now tally 450 minutes apiece, so look to them to carry this team the distance.
With two more Philly battles on the horizon this week in La Salle and Drexel, the question mark remains if Penn can use this result as a springboard to really get the season started.
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