Category Archives: Men's Soccer

A memorable weekend for Penn sports

What a weekend.

From overtime heroics to last-second goals to penalty shootouts to routs of Princeton, these past couple of days simply had everything you can ask for if you’re a Penn sports fan. And best of all, it all came at home.

If you missed any of it, here’s a recap of Penn’s remarkable 5-0-1 record over the weekend, and what it means going forward as the fall season begins to wind down.

Football

Football

Despite record-breaking quarterback Billy Ragone being sidelined with a foot injury, the Quakers remained perfect in the Ivy League with a 28-17 win over Yale on Saturday at Franklin Field. Fifth-year senior Ryan Becker, who usually platoons with Ragone, completed 77 percent of his passes and threw for two touchdowns in the win, Penn’s seventh straight against Ivy competition. Running back Kyle Wilcox contributed 158 total yards and receiver Conner Scott caught a TD while eclipsing 1,000 career receiving yards.

Men's Soccer

Men’s Soccer

In one of the most dramatic games of the weekend, the Quakers beat Yale in overtime, 3-2, on the strength of a 94th-minute goal from senior Stephen Baker, who also assisted on Penn’s first two goals Saturday night at Rhodes Field. Goalkeeper Tyler Kinn allowed Penn to get to OT with a huge save in the final seconds of regulation. With a 3-0-1 record in the league, Penn now sits all alone in first place in the Ivies.

Women's Soccer

Women’s Soccer

It was the only game of the weekend that didn’t end in a Penn win – but it still produced one of the most thrilling moments. With time winding down and the Quakers about to drop a 1-0 decision to Yale on Saturday at Rhodes Field, Penn was awarded a penalty kick. And senior Kerry Scalora delivered, scoring the PK goal to tie the game at 1-1, which is how the score would remain through overtime. With a 3-1-1 Ivy record, the Quakers are tied for second place with Brown, behind only unbeaten Harvard.

Field Hockey

Field hockey

The new stadium continues to pay big dividends for the Quakers, who improved to 3-1-1 in the Ivy League and a whopping 10-1-4 overall with a 1-0 win over Yale in penalty strokes Saturday at Ellen Vagelos Field. Goalie Carly Sokach finished with 15 saves, tying a career-high, and led the way in what was the program’s first penalty stroke shootout since 2002. Penn currently sits just one game behind defending national champion Princeton, who they play, at home, in the regular-season finale on Nov. 9.

Volleyball

Volleyball

This one didn’t have the same kind of last-second heroics as some of the other games but the Friday night sweep of Princeton was just as satisfying. Alex Caldwell had 24 assists and four different Quakers had eight kills as Penn beat its rival, 25-19, 25-22, 25-20, at the Palestra on Friday night to even its Ivy League record at 4-4.

Sprint Football

Sprint football

Speaking of handily beating Princeton, Penn’s sprint football team hammered the Tigers, 72-29, under the lights of Franklin Field on Friday night, improving to 3-3 in the Collegiate Sprint Football League. The 72 points scored were the most in a single game since Penn put up 70 on Princeton in 2010. Quarterback Mike McCurdy led the way with 352 passing yards – the fourth most in Penn history – and four touchdowns.

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Is the Penn men’s soccer team poised for a rebound this fall?

12 Rudy Fuller Sidelines

Last year at this time, Penn men’s soccer coach Rudy Fuller was preparing for big things. The Quakers were coming off a solid 8-7-2 campaign in 2011, which followed a fantastic 2010 season when Penn won a thrilling home game in the NCAA tournament. And all signs pointed to the Quakers continuing to grow into a powerhouse in 2012.

But Fuller’s program took a big step backwards last year, finishing with a very disappointing 3-13 record. For Fuller, it stung then … and it still stings today, even as Penn prepares to kick off a new season with a game against Stony Brook tonight at Penn Park.

“Last season was very tough,” Fuller said in an interview with the Gazette. “It was very unexpected. You go into a season expecting to challenge for trophies and it goes the complete opposite.”

At the very least, Fuller can pinpoint the problems. The combination of a handful of season-ending injuries with only a couple of seniors on the roster led to an inexperienced team losing nine one-goal games.

But if there was any silver lining, it was this: the juniors that were thrust into leadership roles before they were ready last season now make up the backbone of a suddenly far more seasoned squad.

“The juniors, now seniors, were fantastic last spring in terms of setting a tone and holding the group to certain standards,” Fuller said. “Now we feel really good in two areas: our depth and our leadership.”

Which Penn players can we expect big things from in ’13?

Well, there’s senior Stephen Baker, who’s scored 19 goals in his first three seasons and who Fuller says has been “an influential guy since he stepped foot on campus.” There’s junior Duke Lacroix, who’s also proven to be a dynamic scorer and is a player that Fuller thinks has a big future in front of him. (“He’s very determined to be a pro and it shows in his approach and in his development over his first couple of years,” the Penn coach said.) And there’s senior Jonny Dolezal, a returning captain and a stalwart of the backline. Fuller also pointed to midfielders Lou Schott and Austin Kinn as key players.

“I think we’re pleased with where we are right now,” Fuller said. “I like our returning group a lot.”

Those returning players will certainly be challenged with a daunting schedule that includes a visit from 2012 national finalist Georgetown on Sept. 19. And even though there’s been a lot of turnover in the league, the Ivy schedule will be challenging as always.

But for Fuller, that’s all part of his plan.

“We put together a schedule two or three years in advance and we put this schedule together for this team,” Fuller said. “There was definitely a major hiccup last fall that was unexpected. We expected to have a very good year last year and challenge for the Ivy title. That didn’t happen. But we put together a harder schedule based on the personnel we knew were going to have in our junior and senior class.”

Can the upperclassmen lead Penn to some big wins over national powers? Can the Quakers challenge for an Ivy title and return to the NCAA tournament? Will they show that last season was nothing more than a blip?

Fuller is certainly optimistic.

“Last years shows you how fine the line is between success and failure,” the Penn coach said. “It’s a big incentive for our guys to rebound from that season and turn one-goal results in our favor. And I think we have a very determined group right now.”

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Penn soccer star plays against the pros

Duke Lacroix

CHESTER, Pa. — One day, Penn rising junior Duke Lacroix hopes to be a professional soccer player.

On Tuesday night, he got the opportunity to play in a professional stadium against a professional team … and he fit right in.

Lacroix – who is spending his summer with with the Ocean City Nor’easters, a Premier Development League amateur team that fields mostly college students – traveled with his Ocean City teammates to PPL Park on Tuesday to take on the Philadelphia Union in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup, a tournament that pits American teams from all levels against each other.

And led by the speed and craftiness of Lacroix, Ocean City put a serious scare into the Major League Soccer team, scoring a game-tying goal in the 91st minute before surrendering a stoppage-time goal and losing 2-1.

“It was a great atmosphere,” Lacroix said after the game. “At first there were jitters, in the first seconds of the match. After that, for the rest of the 90 [minutes], you don’t hear much. You’re just in the moment. It’s a great feeling. I didn’t really realize the crowd until the end of the game. But it was a great opportunity to play on a field so close to my university and where I grew up.”

Lacroix, who hails from New Egypt, N.J., was especially excited about the end of the game when Ocean City tied the contest and set off a massive celebration on the Nor’easters sideline.

What was that moment like?

“Pure jubilation,” he said. “To see the bench run on the field like that, to score on the field, to hear the crowd, to hear the boos especially – it’s always nice to score on an opponents’ field. It was a great moment for our team – although it was short-lived, which was kind of bittersweet.”

Ocean City’s dramatic game-tying goal is part of the allure of the U.S. Open Cup. By all measures, MLS teams should always beat amateur sides. But time and again, lower-tier teams find ways to survive and advance in what’s been dubbed by some as the “March Madness of U.S. Soccer.”

Ocean City was not able to advance into the fourth round but they still managed to defeat the New York Red Bulls U-23s and upset the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the first two rounds of the 100-year-old tournament.

And they were not scared to play an MLS opponent.

“I like to think Ocean City keeps things professional,” Lacroix said. “The way we play keeps things top-notch. And we kept the game close to the very end. I think that’s a testament to the program we have in Ocean City.”

Lacroix, who’s scored 10 goals during his first two years at Penn, said that he had a lot of friends and family in attendance. The Penn men’s soccer coaches, including head coach Rudy Fuller, were also on hand to watch their star player take on the local pros.

And even though Lacroix’s team was ousted from the tourney, they can now turn their attention to Penn stars Stephen Baker and Jonny Dolezal, both of whom are part of the Reading United amateur team that takes on the vaunted New York Red Bulls tonight.

Could a little more U.S. Open Cup magic be in store for those Quakers?

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A conversation with Penn men’s soccer coach Rudy Fuller

With the Penn men’s soccer team set to kick off the 2012 season tonight at Rhodes Field, I caught up with head coach Rudy Fuller to talk about his squad, his expectations and why he believes the Quakers will soon be a national championship contender.

Penn Gazette: What’s the feeling like in Penn soccer camp right now?

Rudy Fuller: Well, I think if you talk to anybody in coaching, they’re feeling good. They’re undefeated. Training has been going well. There’s a good spirit to the group. We’ve got a good group of returning guys that were left wanting at the end of last year. They didn’t feel like they achieved everything they set out to. And they’ve integrated the freshmen rather quickly. So we’re pleased with where we are right now.

You have to replace two players that are now professionals in Christian Barreiro and Thomas Brandt – how do you do that?

Well, I’m not sure you can. Tommy and Christian and the other seniors we lost were very integral pieces to the puzzle from last year’s team. But every team is different and new guys always step forward. So we’re not looking necessarily for the next Christian Barreiro or Tommy Brandt, but we’re looking for guys to take on greater responsibility within this year’s team. And I’m pleased to say that when you look at the upperclassmen, we’ve got a lot of influential players and guys that do it the right way.

What players can we expect big things from this season? Is Stephen Baker someone that’s poised for a big year?

I don’t think there are any secrets to our team. I think if someone saw us play last year, I think you have to be expecting big things from guys like Stephen Baker, who’s scored a lot of goals for us in his first two years, and Duke Lacroix, who was Ivy League Rookie of the Year last year and got a lot of attention in the postseason. And then there are guys like Travis Cantrell, Jonny Dolezal and Nicky Yin. Travis has played a lot of minutes and has the experience we need to tap into as one of our two seniors. And the same can be said of Jonny Dolezal and Nicky Yin.

After being named Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Duke Lacroix is primed for a big sophomore year.

You’ve talked about the state of college soccer in the area improving with the addition of the Philadelphia Union. Have you noticed any tangible differences in terms of recruiting or anything else?

Whenever I talk about Philly soccer as a whole, you just have to look at the Division I teams in the city. Across the board, all of them have improved over the years. And I think MLS coming to Philadelphia has certainly played a role in that. When I look back 10 or 12 years ago, there weren’t a lot of really competitive programs. And now you have a group of six schools that are all fairly competitive.

And have you been able to bring in some higher-caliber players because of that?

For sure, and I think our past few recruiting classes have shown that. Our freshman class a year ago was rated the ninth best class in the country. I think when you put the whole package together at a place like Penn – the education, the soccer, the facilities, the city itself – and now you put on top of that that it’s an MLS city, it makes it a really compelling opportunity. I think you only have to look as far as the guys like Tommy Brandt and Christian Barreiro and [Princeton alum] Antoine Hoppenot and the success he’s having with the Union. Who knows whether those guys would have gotten the same opportunity eight or ten years ago? Who knows whether those guys would have gotten the same exposure?

Recent Penn alum Thomas Brandt trained with the Union as shown above, before signing with their minor league affiliate, the Harrisburg City Islanders, this year (Philadelphia Union/Greg Carraccio).

After such a dramatic playoff win in 2010, how difficult was it not to make the NCAA tournament last year?

It was very disappointing because everyone associated with our program felt like we had an exceptionally talented roster that could really do some special things in the league and in the tournament. But it didn’t go that way. There isn’t anything that I can sit here and point my finger to specifically. It just didn’t happen for us. It was disappointing because we’ve set high standards for our program. The standards have increased significantly over the past five to seven years. And that’s a good thing. In my first three or four years at Penn, an 8-7-2 season and a finish in the middle of the pack in the Ivy League, we would have been thrilled with it. But nowadays, we go into every season with the goal of winning the Ivy League and being a player in the NCAA tournament. So when you set the goals that high, seasons like last year are a disappointment.

Do you consider the Ivy League one of the best conferences in the country and is it just getting better and better every year?

It’s without question getting better and better. I definitely think it’s one of the strongest conferences in the country. And I would have no hesitation in saying that it’s definitely the most underrated conference in the country. I think that those of us that work and play and compete in the Ivy League know how good of a conference it is. And when people really come and watch the games and some of those players go on to play professionally, I think a lot of people are pleasantly surprised. If you look at some of the major BCS conferences, the difference between the top team and the bottom team is significant. I think when you look at the Ivy League, the top teams are some of the best teams in the country and the so-called bottom teams are not far away from the top teams.

Penn celebrates its dramatic win over Bucknell in the first round of the 2010 NCAA tournament.

When it comes to preseason goals, are you thinking more about the Ivy League championship or getting back to the NCAA tournament?

I think both, without question. We go into seasons now and we want to win the Ivy League – that is very important to us here at Penn. At the same time, we want to be a nationally competitive program. Those types of teams are not only successful in the conference but they’re successful in the national tournament. We have a group of guys that are vey hungry to add another Ivy League championship to the trophy case but they also want to make a name for themselves nationally in the NCAA tournament.

Do you see this program progressing to the point where it’s going to be a national championship contender soon?

No question. That’s our goal. I think when I came to Penn 15 years ago, we had a clear idea of where we wanted the program to go and those types of things take time. Our initial goal was to position ourselves as one the best teams in the city. And then to position ourselves as one of the best teams in the region. And then it was to take the next step to the national stage. And I think we are certainly competitive nationally now. We feel like we can go and play any team in the country and win. That next step is really becoming a consistent success in the NCAA tournament and making deep runs in consecutive years. We’re putting things in place to allow us to do that but it’s going to take time. It affects every facet of our program from recruiting efforts to facilities to team travel to equipment to staffing. But we are steadily working toward putting Penn soccer among the nation’s elite.

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Q&A with MLS draft pick Christian Barreiro

It’s been an exciting few weeks for Penn senior Christian Barreiro, who first got invited to the Major League Soccer Combine (for the best college prospects in the country) and then got drafted by the New York Red Bulls in Tuesday’s supplemental draft. Even more exciting was the fact that Penn teammate Thomas Brandt was taken the same day by the Philadelphia Union. It was the first time in MLS history that two Penn players were selected in the same year.

Barreiro still has his work cut out to make the Red Bulls’ final roster when the season opens in March. But the playmaking midfielder, who had 20 goals and 18 assists in his Penn career, has already withdrawn from his classes and says he’s fully invested to make it in America’s top-tier soccer league. Recently, I got the chance to talk to Barreiro about his big opportunity.

When did you first hear that the Red Bulls might be a possibility and was your reaction when you found out the news?

Well, I was actually in class. I was in finance. I was tracking the draft on my computer and actually my agent called me first before I saw my name pop up on the draft tracker. And he was like, ‘Hey, congratulations.’ I didn’t really know what happened and he said I got drafted by Red Bull. Then I went back to class and refreshed it and it was there.

When do you go out there to start training camp?

I head up to New York this Sunday and I think I’m gonna have physicals the next day and things like that. And then I’ll start training Monday or Tuesday.

You’re a pretty big Union fan, right? Do you have to stop being a Union fan now that you’re on the Red Bulls?

Naturally, I live in Philadelphia. The Union are always on because they’re the local team, so I watch a lot of them. I also watch a lot of the Red Bulls and I have the utmost respect for the organization and the players as a whole. I’m a fan of the entire MLS. I have an allegiance to the Red Bulls now because that’s who I got drafted by and I have to respect that.

Are there some guys on the Red Bulls that you really admire?

Oh, absolutely. The first guy that comes to mind is Thierry Henry. I’ve been watching him since I’m very young and he’s doing great things now. Dane Richards is impressive. [Rafael] Marquez is impressive. There are a lot of impressive players there that I’ll be able to train with.

What does it mean for both you and your Penn teammate Thomas Brandt to get drafted on the same day by MLS teams?

It’s huge for us. It’s been a dream of ours for so long. And to hear both of our names called, it’s just great. I was really happy for Tom. I was in class and he got drafted before I did so I sent him a text saying, ‘Congrats, I’m so proud of you.’ And then I got called a couple of minutes later. It was great.

When did you first think being a professional soccer player was possible?

It’s been a dream of mine for so long. I came into college wanting to be a professional soccer. Players like Danny Cepero and Matt Haefner, they were from Penn and went into MLS. It’s not like the Ivy League produces the most amount of MLS players but I wanted to be one of those players to come out of the Ivy League and represent it well. I thought my junior year I maybe had a real shot of it. I continued to train hard over the summer with Reading [United A.C.] and I was able to excel this year.

What will you try to do in training camp to make sure you stick with the Red Bulls?

I just have to rely on my fundamentals. I’m a creative playmaker that can also play winger. I can be a striker. I just have to be dynamic. I have to show I’m willing to do whatever it takes for the Red Bulls, to show how fully dedicated and committed I am. I’m just gonna run my heart out.

As an undersized guy, do you think it will be an uphill climb to really establish yourself at the next level?

I mean, there are always plenty of players that are smaller around the world who are able to adapt. You just have to be one step ahead. You need to use your strengths well. My game is not the win every head ball. My game is keep it on the ground, play to feet and move off the ball and be tricky

What was the MLS Combine like, being around all the best college players in the country?

It was a great experience. To come together over a couple of days and just meet with some of kids from some of the elite soccer programs in the nation – it was great to be at such a high level and deal with everything.

And do you feel like you performed well at the combine?

I feel like I improved over the course of the days. Everybody showed up and the first game was pretty hectic. We hadn’t played together ever and there wasn’t really a flow to the game. But as the days proceeded, we meshed with each other. Unfortunately my team didn’t get the best results but I can tell you in the third game we left it all on the line.

Did you get a chance to talk to certain coaches from certain organizations when you were out there? Did you have an idea which teams were most interested in you?

I talked to a couple of coaches. I didn’t talk to the Red Bulls up there but obviously they had me in mind. I’m just really excited given the opportunity by the Red Bulls and I’m ready to make the most of it and represent Penn soccer to the fullest.

What do you think you would have done if you didn’t get drafted?

I still would have tried to pursue other soccer opportunities, whether in the USL-Pro of maybe in another country. But it was a big what if. Now that I have the opportunity with the Red Bulls, I’m just fully invested in that opportunity and hoping I can make the most of it.

How much do you credit the Penn soccer program for getting you to this point?

I credit it so much. [Head coach] Rudy Fuller, [assistant coach] Rob Irvine, my fellow teammates – they have been so supportive of me on and off the field. I couldn’t ask for more.

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Can Penn’s fall-sport dominance continue?

For the Penn athletic teams, this fall’s Ivy League season has begun to mixed results. The football team shook off two straight nonleague losses to kick off its quest for a third consecutive conference title with a dramatic come-from-behind win over Dartmouth; the men’s soccer team (5-4-1 overall) dropped its league opener, at home, to Cornell; the women’s soccer team lost to Harvard but followed that up with a home triumph over Cornell to move to 1-1 in the league and an impressive 8-2 overall; and the volleyball team has started off 1-2 in the league and 5-8 overall.

For all of these teams, winning the Ivy League will be a difficult task as it always is – which is why last year’s accomplishments were so remarkable. In the fall of 2010, Penn captured league championships in football, women’s soccer, volleyball and sprint football to set a school record for the number of titles in one season. And even though the men’s soccer team failed to capture a league crown, it enjoyed a memorable run to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked to some of the school’s fall-sport coaches to get their take on what it was like to be part of such a historic accomplishment last year and what it means going into a new season. Here’s what they said:

AL BAGNOLI, football coach

We try to follow all the sports and we pull for everyone. I think it’s good. It shows the cross-section of people here that are supported and funded. And we’re always trying to catch Princeton overall. It’s healthy for the school. I think it shows all the recruits the support and the opportunities that are out there.

RUDY FULLER, men’s soccer coach

It just shows the support we get from the University and the athletic administration. I think we’ve got a great group of coaches in the department right now. And we do feed off each other. We’re competitive people but in a good-natured way. We support each other. We want to see all the programs do well. It was a lot of fun last year, and we had some success in the winter and spring, as well. It was enjoyable to be a part of.

DARREN AMBROSE, women’s soccer coach

I think it makes you really proud of Penn and the athletic department. It’s a credit to all the coaches and administrators for getting the environment right and providing the resources. We’re always pushing the envelope here. Being in that kind of environment, it breeds a positive attitude and it breeds more success. You look around Penn and the facilities just opened, and you know the expectations continue to be Ivy championships. It’s a great place athletically for coaches and student-athletes at the moment.

KERRY CARR, volleyball coach

I absolutely love it. It’s really fun. We have a really special relationship with the football team. Every time we’ve won a title, they’ve won a title. We definitely are on the same wavelength. We feed off each other, we really do. I think success in one sport helps recruiting in another. And I love it when all the other teams are on the [Daily Pennsylvanian] sports page with us and everyone is winning. It’s definitely not a competition between sports. The more, the merrier. The more Ivy League championships we have, the better for the school.

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American soccer stars visit Penn

For Rudy Fuller, the only thing better than watching the best soccer players in the world just a stone’s throw away from where he was standing was doing so on a field he calls home.

On Sunday evening and Monday afternoon, in preparation for their game against Mexico at Lincoln Financial Field, the United States national team came to Penn to practice at Rhodes Field, where the Quakers’ men’s and women’s soccer teams typically play.

“This is great for our program and university,” said Fuller, Penn’s head men’s soccer coach. “Obviously our administration has put a lot of resources into the facility and we’re very pleased with it. To have teams like this come and train here adds to that. It really shows what a quality facility we have here at Penn.”

While it was certainly exciting for Fuller and some of the Penn athletes to see Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and the rest of the national team stars, the most significant part of the training sessions was that they were the first with freshly hired coach Jurgen Klinsmann in charge.

Fuller, who acted as a liaison for the University, got a chance to meet Klinsmann for the first time – and was impressed.

“He’s a really nice guy, and obviously has a tremendous pedigree,” Fuller said. “And I think he’s going to do a great job.”

Below are a few photos, generously shared by Penn Athletics’ Chas Dorman, from the national team’s training session at Rhodes Field on Monday. (Scroll down to the very bottom to see yours truly looking disgusted to be interviewing Tim Howard.)

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