They say the best team doesn’t always win. They were right.
They also say that the scoreboard doesn’t tell the whole story. Penn men’s soccer coach Rudy Fuller would surely agree with that after his side’s worst loss this season in the form of a 4-0 result at Villanova.
Penn (3-4-5) had struggles at both ends against its crosstown rivals, but the final score did not reflect the gameplay. “You only have to look at the scoreboard to see that statically, it’s a game you would have expected to go the other way," Fuller said.
Indeed, from a statistical standpoint, it seemed the Quakers had dominated, more than doubling the Wildcats (7-5-2) in shots and winning the corner battle.
However, as Fuller acknowledges, the only statistic that matters is goals. “We say all the time in our locker room, ‘[play] between the eighteens doesn’t matter if we don’t win the box… It’s disappointing. When you… give away four shots on goal and give up four goals it’s a disappointment.”
The Red and Blue struggled all game in and around the eighteen-yard box, allowing two goals on free kicks and failing to score despite their numerous chances.
Villanova opened the scoring only twelve minutes in when defenseman Eric McKenna supplied the finish to a Miguel Polley free kick. It was the senior’s first career goal.
Seven minutes later Polley got his second assist of the night when Lucas Hodges was able to get on the end of another free kick. But in contrast to Penn goalkeeper Nick Savino’s struggles in net, the Quakers dominated in possession, allowing only one more Villanova shot for the remainder of the half.
The second half started brightly for Penn as more midfield domination caused more pressure on the Villanova backline. A particularly large chance was squandered in the 47th minute as junior Marc Kaizi-Lutu broke free into the box but put the volley high.
Savino’s nightmare game continued in net with two more Wildcat goals in the 61st and 69th minutes. Polley, presumably tired of assists, put it in himself after a Penn defensive breakdown lead to a breakaway.
Hodge scored his second on what Fuller called a “really good piece of soccer” to complete the scoring. Savino failed to register a save in his first appearance this season.
The bright news for the Red and Blue is that their awful road trip is almost over. After giving up four goals in big losses to both Dartmouth and Villanova, only a trip to Yale on Saturday remains.
The Yale game was already important considering the Quakers' 1-2 Ivy League record, but with the team’s losing streak at three, the matchup gains emotional importance.
“It’s a character check; it’s a gut check... I sound like a broken record but the performance between the eighteens was pretty good,” Fuller said. “But unless we can take care of things at both ends inside the box… everything else goes for naught.”
Penn will have to prove their character and improve at both ends against Yale to have a chance to win. Routine crosses seemed to have difficulty finding attackers and defenders had trouble clearing crosses in their own end. Fuller made a point of naming crossing as a weakness against both Villanova and Dartmouth – it’s clearly a cause of concern going forward.
The return of starting goalkeeper Etan Mabourakh should help, but the Quakers, as a unit, will need to a major team-wide bounceback Saturday to win.