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Penn men’s soccer defeated Princeton on Saturday Nov. 4, clinching the Ivy League title. Credit: Chenyao Liu

Back-to-back Ivy titles, but what about back-to-back NCAA Tournament bids?

Penn men’s soccer (7-3-5, 4-1-2 Ivy) was crowned the regular season Ivy League Champions, fittingly on Dunning-Cohen Champions Field, after toppling Princeton (4-8-3, 1-4-2) last Saturday in a dominant 4-1 victory. The win earned Penn its second-straight conference title — a feat last accomplished by the program in 1971-72. 

It hadn’t been long since the Quakers last upset the Tigers to hoist the Edwin Henry Parkhurst III trophy. The last time the two teams met, the Red and Blue powered to a 3-0 shutout, Ivy League Championship, and NCAA Tournament berth. This time around, the latter won’t be as easy to come by.

The 2023 season brings an expanded playoff format to Ancient Eight soccer for the first time. In the past, the team atop of the Ivy table automatically secured the conference’s NCAA berth. This year, the best four teams must make it through two more tests — in the name of the Inaugural Ivy League Men’s Soccer Tournament — before calling that bid theirs.

“We kind of knew going into last season that it was going to be the last year of the old format,” senior goalkeeper Nick Christoffersen said. “So we really wanted to end that season saying that we won the last old-school version of the Ivy League — and we were able to accomplish that which was amazing.

“Coming into this year, we made it our goal to host the Inaugural Ivy League Tournament, which we were able to accomplish against Princeton — we were really happy about that,” Christoffersen added. “It’s a really special moment for us to be able to win the last one and then also host the first one.”

Saturday’s win earned Penn the top seed and hosting rights for the tournament. With the field set, anticipation ramping up, and an advance to the national tournament on the line, the Quakers must halt their regular season celebrations to focus their attention on Friday’s semifinal matchup with fourth-seed Brown (5-4-7, 2-0-5).

The Bears enter the match fresh off a 0-0 draw with Yale (8-5-3, 3-1-3), boasting an 11-game unbeaten streak extending back to Sept. 16 — though that stretch is riddled with scoreless draws like the one suffered to the Bulldogs, including one with Penn on Oct. 14. In fact, Brown’s only meet with defeat this season was a four-game losing skid that followed a 3-1 season-opening victory. But in their 11 games since, the Bears have been met with five 0-0 ties, a pair of 1-1 draws, and only one game ending in a margin greater than two goals. 

Despite the team’s inability to find the back of the net this season, it’s not for lack of trying. Heading into Friday’s contest, Brown has outshot Penn on the season 185-160, though only boasting a .373 shot-on-goal percentage to the Red and Blue’s superior .488. 

Defensively, the Red and Blue’s top priority will be silencing Brown’s top scorer Kojo Dadzie. The senior midfielder is four goals ahead of the next name on the team's stat sheet with seven — though he has yet to net his first assist of the season. Across the pitch, getting one past goalkeeper Hudson Blatteis may prove equally tricky, as the senior has only allowed two in the nine games he’s played this year, maintaining a stellar .926 save percentage.

As for the Quakers, they’ll be rolling into the semifinal matchup with a four-game winning streak — and adjusting to the postseason atmosphere should be no issue. Not only does Penn have the upper hand when it comes to postseason experience, with the team having captured a 3-0 NCAA triumph over Rutgers at home last year, but Christoffersen also noted how the Quakers approached the games late in the Ivy season as playoff previews.

“I think we've done a good job at making it difficult for teams to play [at Dunning-Cohen Champions Field], whether that's imposing ourselves early, or even just the environment of playing in Penn Park,” senior midfielder Michael Hewes said. “Unlike what a lot of other programs have, we're kind of in a park as the name implies. I don't really know if it's the city skyline or just playing on the turf, if it has some effect on the teams we're playing, but it's been doing us well so far and I hope that can continue.”

Hewes and junior forward Stas Korzeniowski will be key players to keep an eye on as the current team leaders in goals (eight) and assists (seven), respectively. Between the posts, Christoffersen looks to pick up his eighth shutout of the season. 

“We've played Brown before, so we know a little bit more about them now than prior to that [Oct. 14] game,” Hewes said. “But I think we know what we have to do in order to beat them. We do film study on past games, and we've yet to do that. Once we do that Friday, I'm sure we'll be a bit more keyed into specifics.”

Given the team’s recent success, especially at home, the team doesn’t plan to make any significant adjustments ahead of Friday’s 6:30 p.m. matchup. If Penn’s undefeated streak at home stands — one that dates back to Nov. 6, 2021 — the Quakers will advance to Sunday’s final, and face the victors of the Yale-Harvard semifinal.