Penn’s men’s soccer team brings in a new crop of freshmen every year to bolster their roster, but this year’s class stands out just a bit more.
This year, the Quakers brought in 11 new players — almost half of the 28-man roster. With the greater size, this year’s freshman class will also be expected to play a bigger role on the team than freshmen of years past.
Providing depth at the goalkeeper position this year is Corning, N.Y. native Erik Ekstrom. Ekstrom led his high school varsity team to back to back section finals, scooping up two straight All-State awards on the way.
New on defense this year are Filip Guhr, Alex Touche and RC Williams. Guhr is from Boca Raton, Fla., and comes from a family with a long history in athletics. His mother was a gymnast in Hungary, his father was a national-team table tennis player, his sister was a dancer, his grandmother was a handball player and his grandfather was a volleyball player.
Touche is from Albuquerque, N.M., where his high school career earned him a multitude of accolades. He was named honorable mention All-State as a freshman in 2013, then first-team All-State the next three years, including an All-State Player of the Year honor in 2015. Touche has a twin brother who is playing soccer at Cornell this year, which should make their September 30 match at Penn even more interesting.
“It's been super easy,” Touche said of the transition to college. “We have 11 freshmen so I think that has made it a lot easier, we all get along really well so I have not felt alone at all.”
Williams is from Wayne, Pa., and enters the squad already knowing fellow freshman Giacomo Giordano from their high school years. Williams attended YSC Academy, a prep school affiliated with the Philadelphia Union.
Helping out in the midfield this year will be freshmen Joey Bhangdia, Giacomo Giordano, Nicky Goldlust, Jake Kohlbrenner, Amado Lozano and Henry Sherwood Caballero. With such a big crop of freshmen all playing midfield, minutes will likely be sparse for several players.
Bhangdia hails from Lewisburg, Pa., where he was named NSCAA All-American in 2016, along with Pennsylvania Male Soccer Coaches Association 2016 Male Player of the Year. He graduated Lewisburg as the team’s all-time leading goal-scorer with 117 goals and will look to continue his success here at Penn.
Giordano is from Radnor, Pa., and trained on and off with the Napoli youth team throughout his high school years. When not training with Napoli he played for the academy team Continental FC Delco.
Goldlust differs from the rest of the incoming class in that he grew up outside of the states — he is from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Goldlust also comes from a rich family history in athletics. His father played for the Brazilian rugby team and his mother competed in triathlons. In addition to his success on the pitch, Goldlust excelled in the classroom as he was the valedictorian of his class at his school, Pequeninos do Jockey.
Kohlbrenner, from East Syracuse N.Y., was also the valedictorian of his high school (East Syracuse Minoa). There, he was the team’s leading scorer in 2014 and 2015. In addition to competing for his school, he competed for club team Empire United Academy.
Lozano is from Alameda, Ca., and played club soccer with the San Jose Earthquakes Academy from 2013 until his arrival at Penn. He was ranked the seventh player in the Northwest region by Top Drawer Soccer and the No. 52 player nationally in 2015, so expectations will be high for the freshman.
Caballero, born in Danderyd, Sweden, grew up in New York, N.Y. He played club soccer at Gottschee and Esporte Athletic Club Samba, captaining both teams. He also comes from a family with lots of success in sports, with a sister running cross country at Macalester College and a dad who played basketball there.
The lone freshman forward this year is Wes Maki, from Naples, Fla.. The IMG Academy graduate has a brother who plays soccer at Wisconsin and a father who played baseball at Wyoming. Before transferring to IMG, he played for his public school, Barron Collier Academy.
“The level of commitment has been the biggest difference between college and high school,” said Maki. “You have to be prepared every day to work hard.”
This year’s freshman class not only represents the future of Penn men's soccer, but with such a large class, several players will have the opportunity to make a difference this year. And if the freshmen's quality is as strong as their quantity, the grass will look a lot greener on Rhodes Field for years to come.