For one of the most accomplished athletic programs in University history, the story of Penn men's soccer nearly ended before it even started. We delve into the history of the program and the principles set by its founders over a century ago.
The Quakers’ first official season on the pitch came in 1908, but the origin of the program was in reality born three years prior, in the fall of 1905.
Upon the visit of a British team to Philadelphia, students at Penn developed some curiosity about the sport, which sparked a group of interested Penn students to begin practicing together. At the time, soccer was rarely appreciated by Americans the way it is today; thus, the introduction to the high level of English soccer piqued the interest of a number of Penn students.
Starting early in 1906, Penn students gathered to play soccer several times a week. They would typically practice but would also scrimmage at least once a week. Despite initial interest, Penn students frequently had trouble finding field time to play with each other as priority was almost always given to the established varsity teams on campus — this obstacle was a significant one.
The lack of available field time for the soccer players eventually dwindled the interest of many of the initial participants. As months passed, it became more and more difficult to assemble enough Penn students to field one team, let alone to have a full scrimmage.
As 1907 approached, it became abundantly clear that the future of soccer at Penn was entirely dependent on whether or not the team would be able to establish a varsity program in the immediate future. Establishing the presence of Quakers who were initially passionate about the sport was a difficult endeavor, but certainly a task worth accomplishing.
A few players demonstrated their dedication to the sport by converting all of their free time into field time. These select few proved to the administration that creating a soccer team was a worthy risk. After close to two years of struggling to even find field time, the Red and Blue finally had a varsity soccer team to call their own.
After Penn established the program late in 1907, the Quakers began to compete against other schools, but it would not be until 1908 when the Red and Blue would have their first official, documented season at the collegiate level.
Surprisingly enough, many of the Quakers’ first ever intercollegiate soccer matches came against high school teams in the greater Philadelphia area, including Episcopal Academy and Germantown Academy.
These types of games are certainly not reminiscent of the program today, but victories over these high schools were imperative to create buzz and respect for the program. Penn dominated these local high school programs, highlighted by a 4-0 victory over Episcopal Academy late in 1908.
The foundation set by this young and largely inexperienced Quaker team helped lay the groundwork for the winning culture at Penn that is still seen today.
The Quakers have won eight Ivy League titles and made 10 NCAA Tournament appearances since the inception of the program. Penn has spent the last seven seasons without a conference title, but they will look to the 2021 season as an opportunity to finally bring that drought to an end.
It's certainly not bad for a program whose inception necessitated years of persistence by a few passionate athletes.