On a chilly night in Philadelphia, the Brown Bears began their hibernation.
Just a few hours after its gridiron counterpart fell to the Ivy-leading Quakers on Franklin Field, Brown men’s soccer came up just short in a wild back-and-forth match that featured some exceptional strikes on goal from both sides.
Penn, cheered on by a legion of friends, family and former players, marked this year’s edition of Homecoming with a 2-1 overtime victory over a team that has owned the Quakers in recent years. The win also catapults Penn (5-5-5, 3-2 Ivy) into contention for the Ivy League championship, a trophy that seemed out of reach after its 4-1 shellacking at the hands — or, rather, feet — of Dartmouth just two weeks earlier.
Saturdays match was intense from the opening kick-off as the margin between the two teams was, as Penn coach Rudy Fuller commented after the game, razor-thin.
Initially, both squads were somewhat passive, sending long balls down the field and making probing runs along the side of the pitch. By the final whistle, the shot total was a balanced 12-10 in favor of Brown, and the two sides had an equal amount of set piece opportunities.
But the biggest difference in the match came in the form of its smallest player: Penn freshman Dami Omitaomu.
The rookie was a force to be reckoned with, as his artful dribbling drew double and triple teams from the bigger Brown defenders. What the 5-foot-7 midfielder lacks in height, he makes up for with elite speed and total field presence. The reigning Philadelphia Soccer Six Rookie of the Week capitalized on his slower opponents early in the second half with a beautifully timed run past the back line.
Senior goalscorer-turned-facilitator Alec Neumann lobbed the ball to the upper-right corner of the penalty box and Omitaomu, positioned in front of the defense, outran first team All-Ivy defender Jack Hagstrom and calmly chipped the ball over the head of the approaching goalkeeper.
Brown (7-7-1, 2-2-1) was not to be outdone, as the Bears countered with a brilliant individual display of their own. Brown’s leading goal scorer and sophomore Matthew Chow overcame a poor first touch and a diving challenge from Penn sophomore Austin Kuhn to curl a hard-hit strike past sophomore goalie Etan Mabourakh into the top left corner in the 83rd minute.
The members of Penn men’s soccer have not been strangers to ties over the course of the season, as the Quakers’ five draws are tied for the second-most in the nation. So when the whistle sounded signaling the end of regulation, the Red and Blue were probably thinking, “Here we go again.”
Omitaomu, however, came through once again, this time in game-winning fashion. After the Bears conceded a free kick in the Quakers’ own half, junior Sam Wancowicz sent a ball across the pitch to Neumann. What happened next can best be described by Omitaomu himself, revealing a mature tactical mind that belies his rookie status.
“When we got the foul, I set up near the back post because their team was pushed toward the other side,” he said. “Neumann also came over and played it over and told me to flick it on. I saw the keeper was cheating off his line and so I tried to just get it over him and catch him off guard.”
The freshman’s 25-yard golden goal sealed a crucial win for the Quakers, ending a six-year winless streak against their Rhode Island rivals.
Fuller had nothing but praise for the progress Omitaomu has made over the first months of his career.
“The two goals were very different and I think it shows off his ability to either get in behind and show off his pace or have a good second-range shot and show off his ball striking abilities,” Fuller said. “He’s coming along really nicely. He’s gotten a lot of opportunities this fall and it’s paying off.”
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