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Credit: Thomas Munson , Thomas Munson

Every championship team in collegiate athletics begins with a core class, the players who build the foundation for the entire season.

The championship may be a few years down the road, but Penn men’s soccer could have found that group with this year’s recruiting class.

Ranked the 12th-best recruiting class in all of college soccer by, the Red and Blue may have brought in one of the best collection of players in school history.

An impressive five of the nine freshmen — Nigel Blackwood, Gavin Barger, Etan Mabourakh, Erik Swenson and Gideon Metrikin — have at least some experience on the United States youth national team, a squad tasked with finding and training the best American soccer players in every age group. Three of those five — Blackwood, Barger, and Mabourakh — are still currently members of the national squad.

Add to them Eremuse Momoh, Scott Forbes and Timmy Barger, all four-star recruits, who will bolster the depth of young talent the Quakers have this year and for seasons to come.

Sophomore transfer Joe Swenson also arrives at Penn after not seeing playing time at Connecticut. He won two club national championships with the New York Red Bulls in high school, and was a member of the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy Winter Showcase Team.

Getting such a highly touted group of student athletes to commit to Penn is no easy task and much of the credit must be given to coach Rudy Fuller.

Fuller attributed the recruiting success to the school itself.

“Penn has a lot to offer young men who want to play soccer at the highest level and get a degree from a top notch institution,” he said. “So it’s a compelling opportunity for those individuals, and we’ve done a good job selling that.”

After a disappointing 2014 season that saw the Quakers finish 6-9-2 overall, this type of freshman class is the first, and arguably most important, step in returning the team to its winning ways. Fuller, however, remained cautiously optimistic about what type of immediate impact this assembly of talent would have on his program.

“I think it remains to be seen,” he said. “Right now there’s still pressure to learn what it takes to be successful at the college level. Fortunately we have guys who have played a lot of minutes for us who can help bring them along quicker than normal. 

"We need our upperclassmen to be good leaders and to mentor these guys because in the end, it’s going to make their last year or two years more special.”

Compared to other Ivy League programs, the Quakers appear to have brought in the best class of athletes by a significant margin. The next closest schools to them in the rankings are Dartmouth and Princeton, at No. 34 and 36, respectively.

Looking forward, it’s not uncommon for one strong recruiting class to have an effect on attracting other top players in years to come, which Fuller acknowledged.

“As a coach, recruiting is the most important thing you do," he said. "They said good players make good coaches, and great players make great coaches. To be successful at the college level, you’ve got to work harder and recruit better than the next guy and really do a good job of developing the talent when it gets here. But recruiting is the first and most important step in that process.”

With the current group of freshmen, it appears the Quakers have taken that first step.

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