They say your biggest enemy is yourself. For Penn men’s soccer, that proved true on Tuesday.
Penn tasted its first defeat on home soil this season after falling 2-1 to Lehigh in a closely contested game that was decided by a couple of Penn errors.
The game started off evenly, with chances few and far between. However, the tables turned in the 19th minute. Off a misplaced pass by freshman defender Kai Lammers, a low cross by Lehigh (5-2) into the penalty box found unmarked forward Michael Tahiru, who opened the scoring, with a simple finish from close range.
However, the Red and Blue (3-2-1) rallied back to equalize almost instantly. A minute after play resumed, junior midfielder Joey Bhangdia took the ball in his stride and dribbled past a couple of defenders before unleashing a ferocious shot. The goalkeeper got a hand to it, but it was not enough as Bhangdia recorded his fourth goal of the season, and two in as many games.
“The silver lining was that we did respond well in that particular moment [after conceding],” coach Brian Gill said. “So that was good for us to see."
Things started to kick off for Penn from then, as it looked to grab hold of the game before halftime. Unfazed by his earlier mistake, Lammers was a constant threat to the Mountain Hawks with his overlapping runs down the left flank. However, his final ball into the box lacked precision, and the scoreline remained tied going into the break.
Both teams upped their tempo considerably in the second half, though neither seemed to possess the creative spark needed for breakthrough in the final third. Fifteen minutes into the half, the Mountain Hawks wanted a penalty after a shot hit Penn senior midfielder Brandon Bartel’s hand inside of the box. However, the referee adjudged Bartel to have kept his hand next to his body and awarded a corner to Lehigh instead.
Off that resulting corner, a lofted clearance by Penn found junior forward Jake Kohlbrenner, who was off and running. With only the keeper to beat, he released a right-footed shot that sailed marginally wide.
With both teams evenly matched, Kohlbrenner’s miss would eventually prove costly for the Quakers.
Penn's second major error of the game came in the 66th minute from an unlikely source: junior defender Alex Touche. Having been so consistent at the back for Penn, he was unable to control a Lehigh clearance off a Penn corner. Tahiru, leading the ensuing fast break for the visitors, squared the ball to forward Josh Luchini, who side-footed a ball past Penn sophomore goalkeeper Dane Jacomen and into the net.
For much of the game, the Red and Blue were able to contain Luchini, Lehigh’s leading scorer this season. However, even with only one opportunity, he smelled blood.
With the clock running down, the Quakers put their foot on the gas to try and level up the scoreline for the second time. However, they struggled to string together passes in the opposition's half, while their long passes from the backline also failed to find anyone up front.
Sophomore midfielder Ben Stitz came closest to scoring for the Red and Blue. In the 79th minute, he dribbled through a crowd of Lehigh defenders, before unleashing a left-footed effort that was deflected onto the post and out.
Toward the end of the game, Penn had an opportunity for a penalty when sophomore forward Matt Leigh went down in the box, to which the referee yet again turned a blind eye. That summed up a night in which the Quakers were on the verge of finding some magic, but came up just short.
“Lehigh does a very good job of punishing your mistakes,” Gill said. “When you make mistakes of that kind, those can be difference-making. We knew that coming in, but unfortunately we didn’t do what we needed in those moments to prevent [those errors].”
Tuesday's result was a tough pill for the Quakers to swallow, but they will have a chance to get back on track this Saturday when they visit Big 12 foe West Virginia. That game will be Penn's last before Ivy League play kicks off.