Soccer is like a stew — according to Penn men’s club soccer team captain, Will Wallace, that is.
All four components — the goalkeeper, defensive backs, midfielders, and forwards — must find the perfect balance with each other to field a palatable team. It’s not just individual talent; it takes every player knowing and executing their role within the context of the group.
The men's club soccer team, nicknamed "The Dolphinos," do exactly that.
For the second straight season — with the 2020 season being canceled due to COVID-19 — the Dolphinos have earned a bid to the NIRSA National Championship in Foley, AL.
Two years since the club team took the field, the Dolphinos added 12 new players to its 21-person roster. With such significant turnover, it’s almost a surprise that club soccer was able to reach Nationals once again.
“At the beginning, I'd say that we relied very heavily on the old team,” Wallace said. “But over time, we really started to come into our own; each person knows their role a little bit better than they did the first week, and everyone's getting playing time now.”
Drawing over 200 players in their fall tryouts, the Dolphinos never had any issues with talent. With a cut rate hovering around 95%, it is one of the most competitive club teams at Penn.
This team has skill. But balancing a handful of new players — no matter how gifted they are — is no easy task.
“Every guy on the team is super talented,” center back and captain Nick Anderson said. “The key is just making sure that these really great individual players play well as a team.”
Figuring out how to mesh the team’s veterans with the 12 new players was something that Wallace, Anderson, and the other captains talked about before the start of this season.
“Practices have looked like a lot of possession and team-based drills, and then it's about getting all of those reps in,” Anderson said.
The captains’ emphasis on building chemistry is visible in the team's dynamic.
“One of the things that I loved was that a lot of the upperclassmen participated in the tryouts with us,” freshman defensive back Sam Finklestein said. “It wasn't just an evaluation, but they really wanted to get on the field with us and develop a connection as a team.”
But the team's chemistry off the field has been just as much of a priority. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, almost all of the Dolphinos cram into a tiny high-rise apartment to watch Champions League soccer games.
“All the guys would show up in the middle of the afternoon no matter what,” Anderson said. “We'd have food, all the guys would watch the games together, and it would be pretty fun.”
Despite the high turnover of new players to the club soccer program, the Dolphinos have found the success they had hoped to achieve in their 6-2-0 season. The talent, chemistry, and experience have all finally started to materialize.
“It's definitely been like a stew,” Wallace said. “It’s taken a while to meld and get everything to taste right, but we finally got it, and that's why we're here.”
The Dolphinos take on the nation’s best club soccer teams in Foley starting on Nov. 17.