Fine margins can prove deadly.
Two narrow losses provided a somber start to Penn men’s soccer’s season, with a pair of 2-0 defeats at the hands of Monmouth and Bowling Green frustrating the Quakers over the weekend.
Friday’s trip up to Monmouth (2-1) saw a promising performance from the Red and Blue — they outshot their New Jersey counterparts, and coach Rudy Fuller felt they worked the ball around very well. But two small lapses caused their demise, leaving them with no result.
"We felt good about the performance against Monmouth," Fuller said. "I think the guys were upset mostly because it was a performance was good enough to get a result."
Sunday night featured a high-ranked Bowling Green side (4-0) that came to Rhodes Field ready for a trench-fight. The Quakers (0-2) proved generous hosts in obliging them, though they couldn’t quite match the Falcons for physicality.
Bowling Green committed 13 fouls to Penn’s seven, and towards the end of the game the Falcons’ physical dominance clearly got under the Quakers’ skin.
With seven minutes left in the match and his team down 2-0, sophomore forward Sam Hefter found himself clean through on goal with only the keeper to beat. The Falcons’ last man was quick to pounce on the ball and smother out Hefter’s chance, but the forward continued to kick for the ball even once in the goalie’s hands. For this moment of rashness, he received a red card that stamped shut the Quakers’ chances of a comeback.
"I think Hefter just lost his head there for a minute. It was a heated game, it was a chippy game and frustrations were high," Fuller said. "I'm not sure what he was thinking, maybe he was trying to knock the ball loose; but unfortunately, he caught the keeper in a bad way and was ejected for it. I can't argue with that."
Despite the anticlimactic finish, Sunday’s match had all the makings of a tight and exciting home opener. A cagey start saw a fierce contest in the midfield, and neither side registered a shot until the 15th minute, when Penn junior Scott Forbes acrobatically repelled a glancing header towards his near post.
The Quakers’ first good chance came midway through the first half. Junior Jerel Blades beat a pair of Falcons to unleash a quick counter attack, ultimately finding sophomore Dami Omitaomu inside the box for a shot. The winger flashed his shot high and wide, but the move seemed to shift the momentum in the hosts’ favor.
The next 20 minutes featured severe pressure by Penn, with several corners and an unsatisfied penalty shout — sophomore Aramis Kouzine was taken down from behind in the box — all threatening Bowling Green’s goal, if only unsuccessfully.
A free kick aimed too high by captain Joe Swenson ended the first half with the sense that the Quakers should have converted one of the several chances they earned. Had any one shot been on frame instead of just off, or had Kouzine’s penalty claim been given, the result might have been different.
But Bowling Green came out of halftime ready to take advantage of the few chances they did create. A defensive mistake by Penn in the 51st minute gave the Falcons the ball high up the pitch, and they managed to slot the ball into the net from an acute angle to take the lead.
"It was a self-inflicted wound," Fuller noted.
Just a few minutes later, a towering header from the visitors’ center-back — and leading scorer — gave the visitors the extra security they needed to shut the game down and frustrate the Quakers for the rest of the match.
The night ended with a scuffle between the two sides as tempers flared — exchanging shoves, players from both sides were pulled back by teammates and referees alike with just five minutes left to play.
"We knew we had two tough games coming in, so we're just gonna take the positives from this and move forward," Swenson said.
Two losses aren’t how the Quakers wanted to start their season, but the promising stretches of play and the fiery passion shown on Sunday will give them a fair amount to take away from their first weekend in action.
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