Just minutes into their first conference game of the season, Penn men's soccer surrendered a penalty-kick goal that set the tone in their 3-0 loss to Cornell, the second-ranked team in the Northeast region.
The converted penalty by fifth-year midfielder Harry Fuller gave the Big Red an early cushion that was later extended in the 30th minute by sophomore defender Henry Hylbert and again in the 73rd minute by senior striker Emeka Eneli.
“When you get into the conference, things are different, and plays mean a little bit more,” coach Brian Gill said. “It’s not always the big plays that mean the most. Sometimes it’s the small plays throughout the field that lead to the next biggest play. When you lose smaller plays consecutively, it starts to add up.”
Cornell (6-1-1, 1-0 Ivy) controlled pace and possession throughout the match, constantly pressuring Penn (4-3-1, 0-1) with creative wing play and consistently effective crosses. In response, the Quakers mustered four shot attempts, only two of which were on goal.
Cornell's early strike at Rhodes Field came off a left-side attack resulting in a quick penalty-kick conversion. Aggressive defense from junior Firas Kora warranted a whistle as groans filled the stadium. Fuller calmly slotted the ball into the lower left corner, putting his team in the driver’s seat for the rest of the match.
The rest of the first half was dominated by Cornell. Hylbert scored the second goal for the visitors off a corner kick, as the Quaker defense failed to mark properly. Hylbert, left wide open and stationed on the far post, converted the deflected ball from short range.
Even the enthusiastic Quaker crowd couldn’t swing the momentum after that second Big Red goal. The weight of Penn's first Ivy League matchup since 2019 wasn’t lost on the packed stadium, but the Quaker chants died as the home team failed to pose threats or maintain possession in the attacking third.
While it may not have carried onto the field, the occasion wasn’t lost on the team.
“The players have a good understanding of how important Ivy League games are,” Gill said. “When you get into the conference, things are different.”
The second half began and ended with Cornell controlling the pace, finishing with 11 shots and four corners. Seeds of a Quaker comeback appeared possible after a missed opportunity from Cornell star Tyler Bagley, but the rally faded quickly enough.
Penn’s strongest attack of the second half ended in controversy. In the 57th minute, two Cornell defenders converged on senior Matt Leigh, clipping his feet in the box to stop the attack. Leigh, attempting to play a cross from the right wing, had a positional advantage and a probable shot on net. The referee's no-call was greeted with disapproval from Quaker supporters, but the fans were eventually quieted again by the lack of further attacking threats.
However, it was all but over, as the Quakers lost all patience and form. They launched a hopeless long ball spanning the length of the field in the 69th minute from deep in their own territory into a sea of Big Red defenders. The patience that had proved pivotal last week against Monmouth had evaporated, and the Penn offense seemed to have lost its way.
Cornell's finishing touches came in the 73rd minute from the reigning Ivy League Player of the Week, Eneli. A sustained buildup and attack reached a climax with a beautiful cross from the left wing, blasted into the net by Eneli for his fifth goal of the season.
Chants of “Let’s go Penn” from the crowd grew fainter as Penn’s defeat became all but certain.
“To lose a goal early can rock the entire group in some ways,” Gill said.
With the loss, the Quakers move to 0-1-0 in conference play, and they hope to bounce back against Columbia (1-4-2, 0-1-0) October 9th at Wien stadium.
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