Penn men’s soccer is on a hot streak, and it's not planning on cooling down any time soon.
The team is off to its best start through four games since 2010; in fact its the first time they’ve even been over .500 since then. Sitting at 2-1-1, getting to this point certainly hasn’t been pretty – the Red and Blue played overtime in their first three games, and both wins came by a one point margin – but something still seems to have shifted since last season’s 0-4 start, during which the Quakers were outscored one goal to nine.
Last season around this time, Penn (2-1-1) finally changed its downward trend and won a game. This weekend against Lehigh (3-3) the Quakers will have a different kind of test. Rather than turn things around, they’ll have to see if they can keep the momentum charging forward, while recouping from a tough loss against Milwaukee last weekend.
“I think we played pretty well actually in the [Milwaukee] game, there were some really good moments in it,” coach Brian Gill said. “We’re looking to put that result behind us and be able to kind of focus in on the next thing, grow as a team, address some of these shortcomings, but we’re excited about the next game.”
It’s understandable that the team is excited about the Lehigh match. Although the Quakers won’t return to Rhodes Field until they host Bucknell on Sept. 25, this upcoming game against Lehigh will be somewhat of a reprieve from the road, as the team returns back to Pennsylvania from a two-game trip to Wisconsin.
“Obviously Lehigh, kind of a local rivalry in a way,” Gill said. “Nice being close to home, the ideal situation is obviously being able to play here at home but Lehigh’s not far from here and I think just getting the opportunities to be here back on campus have the guys sleep in their own beds, get back into their normal routines is just sort of helpful.”
They may be back in the comforts of home, but that doesn’t mean Penn is taking it easy.
Soccer can be a notoriously low-scoring game, and Penn’s offense has struggled after getting off to a very strong start. The Red and Blue attack scored three goals in its first game but only one since then. In order to continue this strong start to the season, that’s something that will need to turn around.
The defense has played well so far, especially being tested in high-pressure situations. They’ve achieved a shutout twice already. Even more importantly, they have prevented a score in all three overtimes, including a tie against Drexel that went the distance. When the team needed it most, they’ve been able to step up and prevent a sudden-death loss.
Although the Quakers have played well so far in overtime, going 2-0-1 in overtime games, it’s not a trend they’re looking to continue.
“There’s certainly things we can do better to get ourselves goals in regulation,” Gill said. “We don’t want to be going into overtimes …. Over the course of the season, playing extra minutes like that will take its toll, so we want to try to find ways to finish games off in regulation, but at the end of the day one of the harder things to do in our game is score goals.”
Through training and patience, though, Gill believes fans should expect to see the team improve steadily on both sides of the ball. Preparations won’t change depending on the context, as the team knows it’s a long season and they can’t get overly hung up on what happened the week before. The Quakers are just planning on getting better the only way they know how: hard work.
“We’re still working to become better a little bit in the final third,” Gill said. “We wanna see ourselves create more chances, more legitimate chances is what we’re looking to kind of create.
"We are also looking to tighten up our set piece defending.”
Whatever the outcome in this coming game, this season’s men’s soccer team has already proved that its play in September is better than nearly a decade of teams that came before. Now, it’s just a question of keeping it up.