Penn men’s soccer started the season off on the right foot on Friday, dominating both sides of the ball for a 2-0 hard-fought victory against Monmouth on the road.
After scoring just 12 goals all of last season, the Quakers were eager to improve their offense against the Hawks and did just that, with help from both returning players as well as newcomers.
Traveling to West Long Branch, N.J., the Quakers (1-0) looked to showcase not only their defensive skills but also their offense. The Red and Blue have opened their previous two seasons against Monmouth (0-2), with the home side winning the contest both years. Last year’s game was a thriller, with the Quakers edging the Hawks out 3-2 in overtime on Rhodes Field.
The visiting Quakers started the game off with great intensity, putting up two shots in the first six minutes. The first breakthrough came shortly after, with freshman Kai Lammers finding the back of the net less than 10 minutes into his Penn career. Despite taking an early lead, Penn kept the offensive pressure on, taking two more shots in the next three minutes. The Red and Blue made another breakthrough in the 16th minute, with junior Joey Bhangdia doubling the lead.
“Guys that can step up and make plays really propel us forward. We have all been working this season to gel with our attack better and to make better runs," Bhangdia said. “We were very organized, we shifted well. Guys were cutting out passes and we were able to transition going forward."
For the rest of the first half, play was more even between the two teams as the defenses got more comfortable on their respective sides.
Going into the second half, Penn still commanded a 2-0 lead. Again, the Quakers started strong, with another shot from Bhangdia. However, Monmouth also started ramping up its offensive production as well.
The Hawks did have some opportunities, with four shots to their credit. However, they could not get the ball on frame, giving Penn sophomore goalkeeper Dane Jacomen the easiest possible debut: zero shots faced in a shutout effort.
“In the second half, when they came out really peppering us and coming at us, we had to defend in a block well," Bhangdia said. “We needed to sit in and weather the storm a little bit. The organization and communication we all had as well as the guys playing for each other was really helpful.”
As the game ticked closer to the final whistle, Monmouth's momentum continued to grow. With two corner kicks in the last 10 minutes, the Hawks came increasingly close to finding the back of the net. Tensions started to run higher as increased desperation from the Hawks elevated the level of physicality.
“I feel like it might have been just the emotions at the end of the game, guys trying to close out," Bhangdia said. “But it didn’t hurt us too much at the end.”
And when the final whistle sounded, it was Penn who ultimately prevailed, keeping Monmouth scoreless and coming away with a season-opening win.
Throughout this game, the many strengths and skills of the Red and Blue were apparent. Outshooting Monmouth 9-4, with a 5-0 margin in shots on target, Penn’s energy offensively could be a preview of what's to come this season. The Quakers' defense also had a great showing, holding Monmouth scoreless for the first time in their last three meetings.
Following this strong win, the Red and Blue look to keep this momentum going into their home opener versus Marist (1-1) on Monday.
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