In soccer, goalkeepers are critical.
A good keeper not only serves as a team's last line of defense, but also acts as the chief communicator for the defense, directing defensive formations and coordinating responses to penetrating offensive attacks. Keepers are often the face of the team, and someone that teammates can look to as an example on how to approach training and competing.
These hallmarks of the position are no different at Penn, where the Quakers’ keepers have set the tone on how to play the game the right way. What is unique about Penn’s keeper situation, however, is that depending on the game, the person in goal will vary.
Penn’s goalkeeper squad consists of senior Dane Jacomen and junior Nick Christoffersen. Jacomen is a former Philadelphia Soccer Six All-Star and Philadelphia Soccer Six All-Rookie honoree who totaled 1,354 minutes in his sophomore season. Christoffersen entered Penn as a Toronto FC Academy alumnus and made two starts in that same 2019 season in which Jacomen starred.
In 2019, the Quakers’ goalkeeper situation followed a traditional setup, with Jacomen operating as the team’s primary keeper and Christoffersen appearing in spells. This season, however, the competition is more even, with both keepers earning significant minutes. Through the team’s first eight games, Jacomen has started five games and played a total of 450 minutes, while Christoffersen has started three games and totaled 290 minutes.
With coach Brian Gill deploying both keepers early in the season, Jacomen and Christoffersen have needed to stay ready, knowing that at any moment they could be called upon to make a play. The two have found that the best way to do that is to create a competitive training environment where they can push each other to new heights.
“I think both of us have a really good growth mindset,” Jacomen said. “We come into training every day with the goal of improving and getting better as a goalkeeper. Whether that’s in a specific facet of our game — we kind of cue in on different themes throughout a session with our goalkeeper coach — [or] just overall trying to make our teammates around us better. We’re always cueing in on something that we can do to improve ourselves and improve the team.”
Practice reps are important for players at every position, but they are especially crucial at goalkeeper. The goalkeeper’s role as the last line of defense means that most of the action often occurs away from them. During a given game, a goalkeeper may only see a handful of shots, limiting the number of in-game reps they receive, and making it even more important that they have effective practice sessions.
“The training environment in some sense is more important than getting all the minutes because we spend a lot more time training,” Christoffersen said. “We as keepers improve a lot more in training; the reps are more important for goalkeepers in training. As much as game minutes are very important, the environment we’re able to create is just as important, and I think we both realize that and know that.”
The competitive environment that Gill has created for Jacomen and Christoffersen has helped the players to make the most of both their practice and game minutes. The positive pressure placed on them to perform has helped them to stay focused on the fundamental aspects of their game, which has translated to on-field success.
Christoffersen has a goals against average of 0.93 in addition to seven saves, while Jacomen has a 1.25 goals against average and 16 total saves. In addition, both keepers tout save percentages around 70%, proving that each is capable of headlining the Quakers defensive unit.
“We have this saying that [for] championship teams, or good teams in general, their trainings are harder than their games in a lot of ways,” Christoffersen said. “I think that’s what we’re trying to mimic or create here… just a training environment that challenges you more than the games, so you know that at any given time, one of us can step up and make the play in the game.”
Knowing that either player can be effective in the goal helps Gill from a coaching perspective. However, it also provides a potential pitfall to the rotating two-keeper system. At all times, one of Jacomen or Christoffersen will be on the bench knowing that they could be doing the job effectively.
Jacomen and Christoffersen have taken the situation in stride, and neither has let it turn into anything more than a chance to compete and get better.
“It’s tough sometimes, when someone will play in front of you or you’re taking minutes away from each other,” Christoffersen said. “But at the end of the day, I think when we both take a step back, we’re very happy that we have an environment where we have two keepers that really want to push the standard.”
Despite seeing his game minutes decline this season because of sharing the position with Christoffersen, Jacomen is also appreciating the unique opportunity.
“It’s a really cool situation and something I’ve never really been a part of up until Penn,” Jacomen said. “I’m relishing it; it’s awesome.”
Jacomen and Christoffersen have set the example of a team-first mindset and the benefits it can have for a team looking to win its first Ivy League regular season title since 2013. There is no doubt that personal success is important to two keepers that both want to continue their soccer careers after leaving Penn.
But both Jacomen and Christoffersen know that the team is stronger with both manning the net.