Penn men’s soccer lost its first two matches of the season. In a sense, that’s only natural — the team came in late and played against higher-ranked teams with games already under their belts.
But two losses don’t quite tell the full story on the Quakers’ preparation for this season. In fact, according to coach Rudy Fuller, his team might just be better prepared than ever.
“It was a really good summer for us. It was the first time I think I can remember where everybody was placed with a team, getting good minutes, good experience and staying sharp over the summer... from a fitness perspective, and from a sharpness perspective, we were in a really good place on day one.”
One player who looked particularly fit and sharp at the start of the season was sophomore winger Dami Omitaomu.
While many of the team plied their trade at local soccer clubs across the country, from New Hampshire to California, Omitaomu’s summer situation stood out for several reasons. The Knoxville, Tenn. native returned home to his native state to play for Nashville SC — a club on the rise, currently being considered for expansion in the MLS. That element added a little extra excitement to what might have otherwise been a standard summer soccer gig, the winger said.
“We got great attendance every single game,” Omitaomu remarked. “We had an awesome fan section. Everyone was very lively and into it, and it was just nice to see the growth of soccer in Tennessee. Especially with all the attention [Nashville] has gotten, with their hockey team [the Predators] going to the Stanley Cup Finals, having that kind of culture built into the area was really big.”
In seven games for Nashville, Omitaomu provided two assists and scored a goal — off just four shots, for a conversion rate of 25 percent.
Although he may not have gotten the most minutes on the team, featuring in half of the club’s matches, he certainly held his own against others in the National Premier Soccer League, American soccer’s unofficial fourth tier.
“The level of play was about the same — it was very intense,” Omitaomu said. “A lot of the people there were looking towards playing pro...so it was very competitive.”
Not only did Omitaomu play in an interesting environment by being on a potentially MLS-bound team, but he also played alongside an Ivy League rival. Will Emerson, a Nashville native and center-back for Yale, joined him in representing the Ancient Eight for Nashville SC.
While Emerson and Omitaomu are both sophomores and both Tennesseans, this summer was the first time they played together — until then, the two had always been rivals.
“It was actually pretty fun playing alongside Dami, mainly because I've been playing against him for probably the past five-six years, if not more,” Emerson said. “He played for my club rival from Knoxville, so it was cool getting to talk more this summer since we were finally on the same team.
“He's one of the nicest guys off the field, and a bit goofy at times, so I enjoyed being around him,” he continued. “He's very explosive on the field and tough to keep up with, so he's definitely a guy to look out for this fall.”
Omitaomu, having started both games so far this season, stands poised for a breakthrough on the wings for Penn. He was a danger man for the Red and Blue in his first season, but only produced three goals from 17 matches.
If he can add a strike rate or provide assists at the same level he did this summer, Emerson’s prediction may just hold true.
And as for the pair’s inevitable meeting — set for Oct 21 when the Bulldogs visit University City — the Yale defender is looking forward to the occasion.
“I'm very excited to play him now that I know him even better. I think I'll be able to hold my ground pretty well as we square up against each other,” Emerson said, joking, “but it should definitely be a competitive matchup and game overall.”