A Monday night, under the lights, and everything was alright for Penn men’s soccer in its 2019 home opener.
A late goal by junior midfielder Joey Bhangdia gave the Quakers a 1-0 victory and their second win in a so-far undefeated season. The victory on Rhodes Field comes after the Red and Blue traveled to Monmouth and came away with a 2-0 win.
Penn (2-0) began the game dominating possession, having the ball in the attacking half for a majority of the first half. Multiple solid chances were created, but none were capitalized upon in the first 45 minutes of play.
Nearly halfway through the first half, sophomore midfielder Ben Stitz drilled a shot into Marist goalkeeper Samuel Ilin’s hands, and nearly a minute later, sophomore midfielder Anthony Rovito took a shot that Ilin briefly fumbled. Junior forward Jake Kohlbrenner was just shy of getting a foot on the ball before the Red Fox goalie regained control of the ball.
Marist (1-2) got behind Penn’s backline off some unfavorable bounces in the midfield, but a heroic hustle effort by senior center back Casey Barone stopped the Marist breakaway opportunity.
A slew of free kicks taken by Penn, while drawing the breath of the crowd, was ultimately unproductive. One Penn ball was easily put away by the shins of Marist’s defensive wall, and three others missed any connection to an offensive player.
As the half dwindled down, so did Penn’s domination of possession, and Marist gained more and more opportunities in the attacking third. In the last 10 seconds of the first half, Marist found itself with a corner kick which was finally cleared by the Penn defense as the clock expired.
The second half of the game involved more long balls to the forwards by both teams. Both backlines kept the ball out of the attacking third or let their goalies receive the ball unchallenged.
Marist broke the lull with a solid opportunity coming from a flat shot that crossed the net before falling just outside the opposite Penn post. Marist had three more close shots, with one sailing over the crossbar and two barely missing wide.
Stitz took a clean shot at the 10 minute mark that Ilin got just enough of a finger on to put over the crossbar.
“There were times when we had better possession than they did in the second half. It was a battle back and forth, and we did well to take our chances at the end,” Stitz said.
In the end, senior captain Brandon Bartel initialized a play in the midfield and allowed Stitz to take the ball to the top of the box. Stitz laid it off behind the Marist defense for Bhangdia to touch, turn, and shoot. The bullet sailed past Ilin's left hand, falling into the bottom left corner of the net in the 82nd minute of play.
Marist mounted several attempts to equalize over the next eight minutes, but their chances were turned away by sophomore keeper Dane Jacomen. The game finished with a dramatic pinball sequence in Penn’s defensive box that was once again cleared before the Foxes could capitalize.
Bhangdia’s goal was his second of the season, already doubling his total from last year.
“[Bhangdia] is one of those guys who gets in the best spots to score goals. Undoubtedly, he’s one of the best at [it],” Stitz said.
Bhangdia gave the credit right back.
“My teammates are able to play me some awesome passes, making it easy for me," he said.
If the Quakers continue to connect as a team and set each other up for success, their season should be one of plentiful wins.
Penn will hope that New York treats them as well as New Jersey and Pennsylvania have so far, as the Red and Blue will play their third game of the season against St. John’s on Friday in Queens, N.Y.