Many sports teams put in extra work towards improving their game, but Penn men’s soccer is doing it a little differently. The team's record shows that the Quakers tend to get their extra reps on game day.
This season, six of the Quakers’ seven games have gone into overtime. Of those six, half have gone the full 110 minutes and ended in draws.
Five of the six overtime games were scoreless through 90 minutes, with only the team's season opener going to extra frames with points on the board. In that game, the Quakers scored twice before Monmouth found a late equalizer. Sophomore defender Alex Touche would win the game with a header from a set piece. While such a high-scoring game has now proved to be uncharacteristic of Penn’s offense, the tie score after regulation appears to be a habit that has stuck.
Touche would find another overtime game-winner against Marquette, but that trend didn't last for long — the Red and Blue haven't scored since then.
If the frustration for Penn soccer hadn’t set in after two straight scoreless draws, their Ivy opener against Cornell did the trick. Penn conceded a goal just three minutes into the second overtime, ending a shutout streak that lasted 390 minutes of play.
Low scoring games can only be the result of two things: good defense and bad offense. The Quakers' strong defense has been keeping the team competitive in the absence of reliable goal scoring. Senior goalkeeper Scott Forbes is leading this defensive effort; he holds the 5th best save percentage in the NCAA at .881 and is ranked 7th in the country in saves per game with 5.29. The Penn goalkeeper attributes much of his personal success to the entire team, but particularly his back line.
“I’m really confident in all 10 players in front of me and their ability to make my job easier, but especially when I have two center backs in front of me like Casey [Barone] and Touche who are consistently making great tackles, consistently winning their aerial battles, and turning into a pair that I think could really stand toe to toe with any center back pairing across the country," Forbes said.
Statistics corroborate Forbes’s sentiment. Over the course of seven games, the Quaker defense has let in a total of five goals. Factoring in the time in overtime, the Quakers have let in an average of just one goal every 123 minutes, less than one per game.
By comparison, the Quaker offense has four goals on the season, with three of those scored in the Monmouth game. That means the Red and Blue have scored in only two of their seven games.
“For the most part, yes [playing in overtime] does talk to our inability to score but it doesn’t really give us fully credit for the opportunities we’ve created,” junior midfielder Brandon Bartel said. “Up until this point we’ve actually done a good job attacking, especially better than years past, a few things just haven’t really gone our way. If you look at our shots or our corners created, those all represent times that we’ve gotten into the final third, gotten some sort of end product out of it. We’ve really just not been able to find the back of the net."
By this time last year, seven games into the season, the Quakers had scored the same number of goals. The big difference is that opponent goals have dropped from 14 to five. Similarly, in the 2017 season, the Red and Blue lost six of their first seven games. This year’s two losses are an improvement. The team is hopeful that it won’t have to wait until next season to rally into a winning record.
“Once our front four guys start to find the back of the net, they’ll really start piling in. I think it gives a lot of defensive credit to the entire group. We’ve done an excellent job defensively to keep us in every single game,” Bartel said.
With senior captain Jerel Blades out with a concussion, the pressure falls on less-experienced members of the team to put the ball in the back of the net. Blades has produced five goals in his time as a Quaker, only outscored by senior captain and midfielder Joe Swenson, who has nine career goals but none this season.
In the meantime, the defense will continue to try to shut down the opposing team.
“[Coach Gill] deserves a lot of the credit for transforming this defense from two shutouts last year to one of the best in the country this year even after losing a senior captain in the back line,” Forbes said. “In the end, if we’re able to keep an opponent scoreless for 90 or 110 minutes, we give ourselves a chance to win the game for 90 or 110 minutes. I think the importance of that can’t be overstated.”
As long as they continue to stay in the game by keeping their opponents scoreless, the Quakers are only a goal away from winning.