Since the beginning of the season in early September, Penn men’s soccer (9-1-1, 3-0 Ivy) has built an impressive record, winning nine of its first 11 games and all three of its first Ivy League games, including Saturday's huge contest at No. 15 Cornell, which the Quakers took 3-2.
Currently, the Quakers sit atop the Ancient Eight heading into their final five games of the season.
Four out of Penn’s five remaining contests will see the Quakers match up against long-time Ivy League rivals. After its upcoming game at Drexel, the team will host Brown (6-3-2, 0-1-2) at Penn Park before traveling to Cambridge to face Harvard (5-4-3, 0-1-1). The Quakers will then play their last home game against Columbia (1-5-5, 0-0-3) before concluding their season with a final away match against last season’s Ivy League champion, Princeton (4-4-2, 1-1-1).
With a prolific attack and a reliable defense, Penn has been able to close out difficult games against quality opposition this year. Last season, the Quakers only managed one in-conference win despite having many solid performances.
“Wins and losses come down to the ability to continue to make critical plays at critical times during difficult moments,” coach Brian Gill said. “Soccer is one of those games where you can play well and lose. We felt like we didn't play poorly after some games last season; we just didn’t get some of the critical plays we needed to in order to get the wins that we were looking for.
“With the team being a year older and having more experience, we’ve been able to deal with games differently than maybe we had in the past”.
Penn’s recent victory against No. 15 Cornell solidified the Quakers’ position as the sole leader in the conference, establishing them as the undisputed team to beat heading into the remaining games of Ivy League play. As seen in the match against Cornell, Penn’s games against conference rivals are typically intense, action-packed, and attract large crowds.
“The Ivy League breeds a rivalry within almost every single team in the conference,” Gill said. “Playing against one of the other schools in the league should be something that our players walk away from having a good memory of. I think this year, we're just trying to be excited about putting together really good memories and relishing opportunities to play and live these big moments. The players have done a great job of taking the season game by game and competing as a team.”
The Quakers are looking to continue improving on last season’s results by securing key victories against rivals. After last year’s losses against Princeton, Harvard, and Brown, Penn is looking to prove itself against some of the historically strongest soccer teams in the conference.
“Whether we’re playing an in-conference opponent or not, we do our due diligence to scout our opponents to try to get a sense for what they’ll try and do against us,” Gill said. “Looking at the remaining schedule, teams like Princeton, Brown, and Columbia, among others, are all good enough to win the league, so we try not to fixate on just one team.”
Although Penn is widely seen as the current favorite to finish first in the Ivy League standings, this last upcoming stretch of games will bring new tests for the Quakers to endure. Penn’s success so far this season has given the players and coaching staff a new perspective on the team’s long-term goals.
“There’s a lot of people that would love to be in our shoes at this point in the season, and we’re really trying to impress upon our team that they've worked really hard to get to this point,” Gill said. “We want to continue to utilize the experiences we’ve had and acknowledge some of our successes. We don’t want to rest on the fact that we've achieved some of the things we have to date. Instead, we want to keep going along our way in a humble manner, staying hungry for what the next opportunity may present.”
Many teams in the Ivy League have the skill necessary to challenge for first place, but the Quakers' strong start to in-conference play has already given them a considerable record advantage over most other contenders. Consistency and quality will be crucial for the Penn men’s soccer squad in its last stretch of Ivy League games — starting with the Oct. 22 match against Brown.