For the second time in just five days, Penn men’s soccer was taking on an Ivy League foe at Roberts Stadium in Princeton. But Wednesday night, their opponent was not the Tigers. Rather, the Red and Blue took on Columbia for the second time this season in a game with major Ivy League implications, scheduled just a few days ago as a result of Harvard canceling its season.
The Quakers would go on to drop a 3-0 result to the Lions (12-3-1, 4-1-1 Ivy) in a game that saw the Quakers (5-6-6, 3-3-1) go down early off a 13th minute goal from Columbia’s Francisco Agrest. Despite the early deficit, the rest of the half was a contested affair, with both teams getting opportunities and Penn outshooting Columbia, 4-3.
The second half, however, was a different story. The Lions would outshoot the Quakers, 15-5, and force five corner kicks, with Penn getting its only corner of the game in the first half. In the 65th minute, the referee awarded a controversial penalty kick to Columbia that Zach Morant would slot away for the Lions, forcing the Red and Blue to take risks for the rest of the game as they tried to claw their way back.
The risks would not pay off, as Arthur Bosua would put the nail in Penn’s coffin for Columbia in the 82nd minute, scoring on a counter attack and virtually eliminating any chance at a Red and Blue comeback.
The bright spot of the night for Penn was goalkeeper Etan Mabourakh, who made nine saves on the night to keep the game within reach for the Quakers for the majority of the match.
The circumstances surrounding this final contest were not those that were expected just last week; the Crimson’s forfeiture of their position atop the Ivy League table opened the door for Dartmouth, Columbia and Penn to claim the top spot in the league, with the Quakers trailing the Lions and the Big Green by just one point prior to Wednesday’s game. With the loss, the Quakers are now officially out of the running for their first Ivy title since 2013.
Moreover, with Harvard canceling its season (including what would have been Penn’s home finale on Saturday), the three seniors on the team, captains Matt Poplawski and Alec Neumann as well as goalkeeper Nick Savino, were essentially deprived of traditional senior day festivities.
“They’re certainly going to be very tough to replace, both on and off the field,” Penn coach Rudy Fuller said of his seniors. “They’re three guys who really did it right. They gave their all to Penn soccer. For four years, Poplawski and Neumann established themselves as leaders on this team. I’m so proud that we were able to win an Ivy title for them in 2013 while they were freshmen. And Nick, coming in as a transfer, has really given his all to this team. All of three of them will be sorely missed.”
Neumann, a forward and the team’s leading scorer, finishes his career with a brilliant 24 goals and 11 assists, while Poplawski will end his career with six goals and five assists. Savino finishes his Penn tenure with nine matches played including seven in 2015, having recorded two clean sheets along the way.
While the loss of the seniors will be felt widely, the team is still quite young; there are only seven juniors and seniors combined on the team, and the ceiling is still quite high for the Red and Blue. It will undoubtedly be a blow to see some great players graduate, but it will be exciting to see what is next for Penn men’s soccer.