With three more games left to play in the season, the Penn men’s soccer team (10-1-2, 4-0 Ivy) looks to continue its strong form with the hopes of securing its first top finish in the Ivy League since 2013. Vital to the Quakers’ recent success has been their collective ability to transition from defense to attack and their strong team chemistry.
On an individual level, many of Penn’s players have embraced their unique roles on the field and grown into specialized positions. The fluid brand of possession-based soccer that Penn has been displaying demands movement, positional awareness, and versatility among each Quaker player.
Senior attacking midfielder Ben Stitz has been one of the squad’s biggest attacking threats and has racked up nine goals and four assists so far this season. When watching Stitz play, it's easy to see him linking up with sophomore striker Stas Korzeniowski high up the pitch when the Quakers are in possession. Although he is tasked with many offensive responsibilities, Stitz is officially listed as a midfielder and can be seen playing deeper in the center of the field at various moments in games.
“Last year I played more as an attacking midfielder,” Stitz said. “This year, I have occasionally played in that role, but I’ve also played as the nine [center forward] near the opposition goal. I play in between the striker and the central midfielders and this gives me the freedom to roam around a lot, as long as I take care of my defensive responsibilities.”
Stitz brings creativity to Penn’s attack, scoring goals and creating chances with precise passes. In addition to his abilities on the ball in open play, Stitz has been an adept set-piece specialist and is often tasked with taking a majority of the team’s free kicks.
“Throughout my playing career, I’ve had a lot of experience taking set pieces,” Stitz said. “You need to be a good striker of the ball and have good consistency about how you hit it. I think I’ve developed these skills a lot during my time at Penn because the coaching staff has put a lot of emphasis on practicing these scenarios.
“Being able to deliver the ball into tight spaces around the opposition’s goal takes a lot of practice and looks different depending on the different plays that we try and execute.”
Members of the Quakers’ defensive unit have also matured into their specific positions this season. Sophomore starting left-back Ben Do did not always play a defensive position throughout his soccer career.
“I actually played as an attacking winger up until my junior year of high school, before transitioning to an outside back,” Do said. “I came to Penn as a defender, but I still had to adapt to this role throughout my freshman season. The college game is all about defending, and defenders are consistently tested in difficult situations. I gained a lot of valuable insight from other players in the program who helped me make this transition."
Do plays a specialized version of the left-back position, using his pace to cover vertical areas of the field. Other interpretations of the modern fullback involve defenders who function as extra midfielders to aid their team’s offensive build-up play. Instead, Do calls on his familiarity with playing in external spaces to contribute to Penn’s attack.
“I think if you had asked me a few years ago whether I enjoyed offensive or defensive phases of play more, I would’ve definitely preferred getting assists and contributing to goals,” Do said. “I've recently taken a lot more pride in my defending. A big tackle or block feels just as important as putting a goal in the back of the net."
With a crucial away match against Harvard on the near horizon, Stitz, Do, and the rest of the Quakers will be called on yet again to bring home a critical result that would bring Penn one step closer to topping the Ivy League.