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Junior defender Alex Touche led Penn men's soccer last season with four goals, all of which came from set pieces.

Credit: Alexa Cotler

The set piece is a strong defensively minded team's best friend.

They provide some of the best opportunities to score in soccer. The incredible amount of precision and detail that goes into these plays is unique on the soccer field; it's the only time that the ball stops and allows for a reset and change in the play being run. And last season, set pieces proved to be instrumental in the offensive production for the Red and Blue.

Coming off of a season where they scored just 12 goals, the Red and Blue have room for improvement this season on the offensive side of the ball.

Shot inaccuracy limited the Quakers, who only managed to shoot 33.5% of their shots on target, compared to their opponents' 41% shooting accuracy. Penn was outshot in its games 176-205.

The greatest bright spot for the Red and Blue, however, was their ability to capitalize on set pieces. Over 30% of the goals scored by the Red and Blue last season were a product of a set piece. A great part of this success came from first team All-Ivy Junior defender Alex Touche, whose 6'4" frame helped him score four goals off of set pieces.

“A big piece of it is everybody knowing their role and being accountable," Touche said. “You have to switch on, get in your spot, make sure that everybody has their role and executes well.”

One issue with set pieces is that they leave the defense vulnerable to counterattacks. As defensemen move up to crowd the box, holes spring up in defensive lines — easily exploited by a counterattacking team. However, Penn’s defensive performance on set pieces has been likewise solid, as they have been successful at reducing the counterattack.

“It's easy to look at our set pieces on the attacking side from last year’s team and say that they were pivotal in our ability to get some wins that we got, but I thought that we defended them really well, too, and that kept us in position to be in games later and longer and find ways to win those games," coach Brian Gill said. “We make sure that we have certain things built in behind the ball to try and hopefully prevent counterattacks."

Although the Quakers did see great production from their set pieces last season, there is still room for improvement. And when the offense is less than productive in open play, each set piece becomes even more crucial. 

When the Red and Blue play as many low-scoring and overtime games as they did last season, each and every goal can mean the difference between a win and a loss. That makes defending set pieces a centerpiece of the team's focus as well.

“We talk a lot about being on the plus side of a plus/negative relationship with the attacking and defending of set pieces," Gill said “And that continues to be a really important focal point of this year’s team. … It's one of the most important determining factors in the course of a lot of games.”

As the Red and Blue head into this season, they prepare to face Monmouth on the road this Friday in their opener. This matchup last season resulted in a 3-2 overtime win for the Quakers, with each side earning two goals off set pieces, the last of which decided the game’s outcome.

This season, expect more of the same.