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msoccer-matt-leigh

Sophomore forward Matt Leigh nearly found the equalizer for Penn men's soccer against No. 19 St. John's, but his last-minute shot was saved.

Credit: Son Nguyen

What a heartbreaking finish.

After picking up their second win of the season at Rhodes Field last Sunday, Penn men’s soccer hit the road again to take on fellow undefeated side No. 19 St. John’s. For the first time this year, the Red and Blue couldn’t manage to come on top, losing by a score of 1-0.

The game started off slowly, with both teams trading possessions and working the ball in the midfield; however, neither was able to connect the ball into the attack. The first shot came after 15 minutes from St. John’s defender Jared Juleau, but it went wide of the right post.

From then on, the Red Storm (5-0) seemed to take control of the match, attempting four more shots before the Quakers (2-1) had their first try. Just over halfway through the first half, sophomore midfielder Ben Stitz had the best scoring chance for the visitors when he took a strike from outside the penalty box, but his shot hit the crossbar. The remaining 20 minutes were once again very even, resulting in a scoreless first half.

The home team came back strong in the second half, taking the period’s first three shots. Nonetheless, the Quakers put together another consistent defensive display, forcing the Red Storm into a struggle to find space. Sophomore goalkeeper Dane Jacomen was also forced into action a few times, including an impressive save after a free kick sailed towards the bottom right corner of the goal.

However, Jacomen’s shutout streak ended after 260 minutes this season. With 10 minutes left to play, midfielder Brandon Duarte crossed the ball in the box to forward/midfielder Tani Oluwaseyi, who found the back of the net through the Red and Blue’s tight defense. Penn almost tied the game in the final minute, as sophomore forward Matt Leigh came face-to-face with the Red Storm's goalie but was ultimately unable to hit the target.

Despite the loss, the Quakers continued to show strength on both sides of the ball, with 10 shots throughout the game and a well-organized defensive line. Once again, junior midfielder Joey Bhangdia, who has already scored twice this season, had great scoring opportunities — especially in the second half — but was not able to turn them into goals.

After a tough loss, the Red and Blue head back home for the next three games. First, they will have a chance of redemption against Rutgers, but it won’t be an easy task.

The Scarlet Knights have had four triumphs so far, including three victories in away games, and they remain undefeated this season. Therefore, Penn will need to keep its defense as strong and attentive as ever: Rutgers has scored seven goals, and all of its game winners have come in the second half. Their success also relies on a talented freshman class, as newcomers Jørgen Wisth Lie and Jackson Temple have already scored twice each.

In spite of that, the Quakers could take advantage of their opponent’s difficulty to contain attacks. In its season opener against Temple, Rutgers allowed the Owls to attempt 15 shots — more than twice as many as the Scarlet Knights. Moreover, Penn can count on Bhangdia’s positive momentum. The junior has had a near-perfect start to the season, currently sitting as the Quakers’ top-scorer and consistently forcing goalkeepers into action. If the Red and Blue manage to keep ball possession and successfully transition to offense, they can give the visitors a difficult time.

Penn will look to bounce back against the New Jersey squad on Tuesday at Rhodes Field.

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