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Heather Issing and the Quakers were last at home on September 16 against Harvard. Penn will return home this afternoon for a 3:30 game against American at Rhodes Field. (Jacques-Jean Tiziou/The Daily Pennsylvanian)

It's been nearly a month since the Penn women's soccer team walked solemnly away from Rhodes Field after suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of Harvard -- a defeat that ended its year-long home-field winning streak. Since that time, the Quakers have been on the road, traveling everywhere from Long Island to New Hampshire to Maryland, compiling a 3-1-1 record on their extended vacation from Rhodes. Since that heartbreaking loss to the Crimson, the schedule-makers have not permitted the Red and Blue to reclaim their home turf and to, perhaps, put together another home winning streak. Until today, that is. This afternoon at 3:30, Penn (5-3-1) will take on American (2-8-2) at Rhodes Field, where the Quakers will once again hear the familiar buzz of the Schuylkill Expressway as they play their first home contest in what has seemed like an eternity. "I can't even begin to tell you how happy we are to be coming home," Penn coach Darren Ambrose said. "It's been one long road trip, and I am very proud of how we have handled ourselves this month." "Everyone on the team is very excited to be done with the road trip and to get back and play at home," junior forward Sabrina Fenton added. The Quakers have good reason to be excited for their return. While playing at home gives an advantage to all athletic teams, the Penn women's soccer team is an extreme case. The Quakers absolutely dominate on their home turf. In their last 10 games at Rhodes, the Quakers have won all but the Harvard game, a team that they have never beaten in their nine-year varsity history. In that stretch, the Red and Blue have outscored their opponents by a staggering margin of 24-3. So what gives Penn such an extreme home-field advantage? "Rhodes Field is really not like any other field," senior defender and co-captain Ashley Kjar explained. "It's a really big field, and it is very hard for other teams to adjust." But as the Quakers have proven in the past three weeks, they can also hold their own outside of West Philly. In five games against stellar competition, the Quakers only lost once -- a heartbreaking overtime defeat to Dartmouth. And their one tie came in what Ambrose called the "best-played game of the season." Penn's 0-0 draw to Navy on Sunday ended the five-game road trip on a fairly high note. Despite not coming away with a win, the Quakers still put together many scoring opportunities and dominated the game from start to finish. "I really feel good about how we are playing right now," Ambrose said. "To handle traveling and the teams we've played, I'm very happy with the way we have dealt with being away from home so often." The one problem that remains, however, is the Quakers' lack of touch in the 18-yard box. Despite the recent adjustment to a 3-5-2 alignment, which gives Penn an extra midfielder, the team has still had some difficulty putting the ball in the back of the net. In their last three games, the Quakers have only been able to muster up one goal. "We have to be more committed and composed in front of the goal," Ambrose said. "We've created so many chances, but we need to follow up on them now." The Quakers, however, believe that their new formation is getting better and more battle-tested as it continues to get more experience. "The more comfortable we get with it, the better it is," Fenton said. "The midfielders and forwards working together gives us many more scoring opportunities." The Quakers will look to capitalize on some of these scoring chances this afternoon against a team that has been struggling thus far this season. American, returning 10 starters from an 8-10 team of a year ago, had high expectations going into their 2000 campaign. But new coach and former American men's soccer standout Michael Brady has failed to produce in his first season at the helm. Fresh off a recent loss to Penn's arch-rival Princeton, the Eagles stand at a lowly 2-8-2 record with its only wins coming against Towson and UNC-Wilmington. But at such a crucial junction in the season, Ambrose knows that he cannot afford to take any team lightly. "Our next game is always our most important game," Ambrose remarked. "We respect everybody and fear nobody -- that's our motto this year."

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