At the beginning of the season, Penn men’s soccer faced a decision about who would be taking the role of starting goalkeeper. It was sophomore Dane Jacomen who won out over freshman Nick Christoffersen.
Though only three games in, the Quakers are already having a season quite different from their last.
In 2018, the Quakers finished with a record of 5-5-6, tying more than anything else. In the thick of it, the Red and Blue went without scoring for a total of 700 minutes last season. This year, the Quakers have already scored three goals, due in large part to the efforts of junior midfielder Joey Bhangdia.
The graduation of senior keepers Scott Forbes and Etan Mabourakh meant that Penn would need to pick a new starting goalie. The question of who would be the starter was not decided on the basis of experience, since neither Jacomen nor Christoffersen had any college playing time until this season. Rather, it was decided by the fact that Jacomen had already begun to form a relationship with the players before Christoffersen arrived.
“Early going with the season, we decided to go with Dane in the first two games because Dane had the opportunity to be here in the spring, and through our winter season and spring games, [and he] grew his relationship with some of the guys in the back four,” coach Brian Gill said. “But I think as the season goes on, I think Dane knows that this is not something where he should be feeling comfortable.”
Jacomen, a Pittsburgh native, began playing soccer when he was about 5 years old in a local recreation league.
As a 10 or 11 year old playing on a team coached by his friend’s dad, Jacomen had his first opportunity to play goalie. The team didn’t have a keeper, and when no one volunteered to get in goal, Jacomen was given the role because he was the tallest.
“From that point on it’s kind of been my thing,” Jacomen said.
Jacomen spent three years playing at Taylor Allderdice High School, during which he played for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Academy. During his senior year, Jacomen earned a spot at the D.C. United Academy. There, he had the chance to train with the first team and attended their 2018 preseason camp.
Gill met Jacomen at a soccer camp at Georgetown, where Gill used to work as an assistant coach. The staff of Georgetown's team had been interested in starting the recruiting process to get Jacomen to join the Hoyas, but after moving to Penn, Gill continued to consider Jacomen as a potential keeper to fill in for the impending loss of Forbes and Mabourakh.
“Dane was a player that, coming in and talking with the staff at the time, we just knew that he was somebody that would be interesting for us to explore,” Gill said. “Because of the similarities in schools between Georgetown and Penn, and sort of the kind of student we knew Dane was, we knew he would potentially be a good fit for Penn on an academic level. Then from a soccer standpoint, Dane is an ambitious player, those are the kinds of guys we were looking to bring in.”
Jacomen, like many other Penn athletes, chose to come to the school because of its academic prestige. He knew he would be able to play competitive soccer while also getting a quality education at Penn.
During his freshman season, Jacomen had the opportunity to sit back and learn from Penn's senior keepers. He was able to learn the ropes at the new level of competition by following the lead of Forbes and Mabourakh.
“They were hard on me because they knew I was capable, but at the same time, still made me feel like part of the group,” Jacomen said.
“I think Etan and Scott, through their four years together, [were] an interesting dynamic,” Gill said. “It’s not usual to have two goalkeepers in the same year because of how it can be from a competitive standpoint. Usually there’s a little bit more separation, but those two boys wound up coming to Penn at the same time.”
Forbes started all 16 matches in the 2018 season, bringing his total to 29 starts overall and finishing his career with 101 saves and 36 goals against. Though he didn’t play his senior year, Mabourakh played in 26 matches throughout his time at Penn and was able to notch 118 saves overall.
“I think Scott Forbes had a good season last year, which was also useful for Dane to sit back and, in some ways, kind of appreciate the fact that Scott was doing some things pretty well for us,” Gill said. “Not that I would say that Dane would have to learn everything about goalkeeping from Scott, but certainly as an underclassman there are enough valuable learning points that you can take from an older player.”
“[The first few games] have been good,” Jacomen said. “My teammates have really made it easy for me these first couple games.”
Jacomen knows, however, that it won’t always be so easy in goal.
“Coach [Dan] Scheck does a really good job of training the goalkeepers,” Jacomen said. “Crossing situations is what we’ve been focusing on. He kind of prepares us to really see anything in games, so I feel confident that when I’m called on more I’ll be ready to do the job.”
As for how the team will fare going forward, Gill hopes that the two potential keepers will continue to push each other to be better.
“I think we feel we’ve got quality between both of them. Our hopes are that those two guys are going to compete with each other in a way that will keep driving both of their standards as high as they can possibly go.”
Penn will return home for a matchup with Big Ten side Rutgers this Tuesday.
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