In their first game in 657 days, Penn’s men’s soccer opened their season on the road Friday night against Fairleigh Dickinson.
Making the trip to Teaneck, N.J., the Quakers pushed ahead with a 3-2 win, improving their all-time record versus the Knights to 6-0-0. Since the end of the 2019 season, the Quakers are on a six-match winning streak and are a perfect 3-0-0 in season openers since head coach Brian Gill took over in 2018.
Penn began their scoring output in the fourth minute when senior forward Matt Leigh found the back of the net on a pass from senior midfielder Ben Stitz. Leigh continued his big night with another goal to make it 2-0 in the 23rd minute, this time assisted by junior midfielder Jack Rosener.
From there, the Quakers tried their best to hold onto their lead, and their efforts were helped with a big save by senior goalkeeper Dane Jacomen off of a header by the Knights’ Kevin Leonhard. However, in the 44th minute, the Quakers weren’t as fortunate, as Noah Chia scored for the Knights on a Diego Arribas pass. Arribas himself then evened the score in the 48th minute on a direct free-kick just outside the box.
The game continued on, with both teams having scoring chances during the next 20 minutes. A 59th-minute shot by fifth-year senior defender RC Williams just missed over the top, while Fairleigh Dickinson’s Jeremy Opong’s shot missed in the 57th minute. Soon after, the Knights were whistled for offside, ending their possession.
In the 70th minute, everything changed for Penn. On the attack, Ben Stitz had possession inside the box, and was fouled hard by Fairleigh Dickinson’s Adrian Barajas, which resulted in the referees booking a yellow card to Barajas and awarding a penalty kick to the Quakers, a prime chance for them to regain control of the game. Williams calmly netted in the penalty kick, and the Quakers went up 3-2.
For the next 20 minutes, the Quakers tried to play defensive, though there were many close chances for the Knights. In the 76th minute, Jordan Alonge sailed his shot high, and in the 82nd minute, Opong’s shot missed over the top as well. Finally, in the 85th minute, Fairleigh Dickinson looked like it had its best chance to even the game. Rocky Garretson smashed a header into the direction of the goal, only for Jacomen to block it. Three minutes, later, in the 88th minute, Jacomen did it again, this time stopping Opong’s shot to the bottom right corner, his sixth save of the night. The final whistle blew soon after, and the Quakers were heading back to Philadelphia with the win.
“My initial reaction to the win was one of pure happiness for the program, and especially the players, after [not] playing a game in 657 days," Gill said after the game. "To endure the toils of a tough and unusual academic year, and for them to stick with the school and program for the past two years has been amazing and I am very proud of them.”
When asked about potential improvements that the team can make heading into the future, he said that the key that will decide whether this season would be successful or challenging would be how well the new and inexperienced players could be integrated into the team during training sessions and early-season games following a two-year hiatus.
The Quakers in total had eight shots, six of them on goal, while the Knights were able to put up 13 shots, eight of which were on goal. While the Quakers started hot, they began to cool off throughout the match and allowed the Knights to even it up. However, it was Stitz’s fall inside the box and Williams’ subsequent penalty that made all the difference for the Red and Blue.
The Quakers will look to carry their momentum to Monday for their home opener at 7 p.m. on Rhodes Field against Colgate.
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