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Junior defender Ben Do dribbles the ball past a Cornell player on Oct. 7. Credit: Agustinus Porajow

Fall in America is largely dominated by football, but you can’t forget the other fútbol.

Penn men’s soccer (3-3-5, 1-1-2 Ivy) — the defending Ivy League Champions – are four games into its Ivy League season and just wrapped up their non-conference slate with a 5-0 win against Lehigh University on Tuesday evening. As of now, the Quakers sit in a three-way tie with Cornell (6-3-2, 1-1-2) and Yale (6-4-2, 1-1-2) for fourth place in the conference standings, on the cusp of qualifying for the conference tournament next month, which the top four teams will attend. With half of conference play left to go, let’s look back on the first half and assess the team's shot at reclaiming the title.

The Quakers opened Ivy League play against Yale, a match ending in a 1-1 tie. Their lone goal was scored by junior midfielder Brandon Curran via a header off an assist from junior defender Ben Do. Junior forward Stas Korzeniowski scored off a penalty kick to secure the win against Cornell on Oct. 7 in the team's only conference win so far. Across the four Ivy games, the Quakers have only found the back of the net twice.

The team's goal-scoring habits this season have placed them at the bottom of the Ancient Eight, joined by Columbia. It is not for lack of trying; Korzeniowski has attempted 11 shots – seven of which are on goal – and Curran, coming off the bench, has the second-most attempts with six.

In their first two conference games against Yale and Dartmouth, the team attempted 15 shots in each. While they only had one goal to show for it, the Quakers' efforts were there, proving that the offense could work its way through the opponent’s defense. However, the offense has not been the same in their two most recent games against conference opponents: against Cornell, it only attempted three shots, and against Brown, there was a slight improvement, but still only five shots were attempted. With three games left, the Quaker offense needs to get back into the rhythm it had earlier this season — which included a three-goal performance against No. 14 Penn State on Sept. 8 — to give them a fighting chance.   

Much of the fight for Penn has come from their defense.

The defensive line — Do, sophomore Oliver Pratt, junior Leo Burney, and senior Mattias Hanchard — have each played in all 360 minutes of Ancient Eight play this season. The tenacity and strength of the defense has only allowed three goals, two to Dartmouth and one to Yale, and contributed to keeping Brown scoreless in a 0-0 draw. Even in the Quakers' 2-0 loss, the defense kept the Big Green from even attempting a shot until the second half. They repeated that defensive success against Cornell — translating to a win. 

Between the posts, senior goalkeeper Nick Christoffersen has been remarkable for the Quakers. With only three goals allowed, this ties Penn for the second-best in the conference. Christoffersen has notched a save percentage of 0.786 off of eleven saves. Christoffersen has been stringing together strong performances that have kept Penn in contention in much of its games despite the offensive tally.

Up ahead, Penn has three Ancient Eight foes to face: Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton.  

Harvard right now is the team to beat, with an offense that has tallied seven goals and a defense that has been on par with Penn’s. Princeton too has seven goals to its name, but the poor conference standing stems from the Tiger defense allowing an average of two goals per game. Their offense has not been enough in most games to bail out their defense. Both will be difficult match-ups, especially Harvard who has yet to lose in conference play. But, both matches are at Penn Park, where the Quakers remain unbeaten. The question now is if they can maintain that streak in the final stretch of the season.

Meanwhile, Columbia sits right now as the worst overall team with no wins. This is partly due to the Lions' defense, which has allowed an average of three goals per game. They are the most vulnerable team out of their three remaining, and thus a win over Columbia could help lodge Penn out of its three-way tie for fourth. 

But, keep in mind that the teams are all quite close in the standings right now. Even though Harvard is in first place, the Crimson currently have eight points, only three ahead of the Quakers. A win over Harvard could put Penn in a much better position to qualify for the Ivy League Tournament. 

Penn’s final position in the table — and ultimate fate for the season — will be contingent on the team's ability to put all the pieces together with three crucial games remaining.