PHILADELPHIA – Streaks are made to be snapped, and on Wednesday night at Rhodes Field, Penn and Drexel each saw long-standing September runs come to a close. Fortunately for the Quakers, their slump busting was in a positive direction via a 3-2 win over their West Philadelphia foes in the 40th installment on the University City Derby.
Penn entered the match mired in a six-match losing streak, a 2-0 start to 2013 all but a distant memory. Drexel, on the other hand, was flying high. The Dragons packed five consecutive wins with them as they walked to Rhodes Field from their locker room 10 blocks west. On paper, there was little to indicate things would be different for either side. Drexel had just defeated a team which had already knocked off a pair of No. 1 ranked opponents, while Penn was in the midst of six matches in 17 nights and submitting a Starting XI which had four players making their first career starts. As 90’ unfolded on a picture-perfect night for soccer, a Quakers team looking for a spark might just have found it.
The group of four first-time starters – goalkeeper Max Polkinhorne, defenders Ethan Jones and Aaron Chen, and midfielder Forrest Clancy – pitched a shutout in the first half, allowing the Quakers to sting the all-important first goal.
Penn was outshot in the game, 20-9, and the Quakers landed just four shots on goal to nine for the Dragons. Quantity mattered over quality, though, as the Red and Blue made good on the match’s first shot on goal in the 19’. Duke Lacroix scored his third goal on four matches, showing the game-breaking speed he is known for on a lovely run down the middle of the field. Alec Neumann earned the assist on the goal, knocking a perfect pass through a host of Drexel defender. Lacroix picked up the ball in stride, dangled around the goalkeeper and deposited Penn’s first goal of the match.
The Red and Blue had controlled the first minutes of play, earning three successive corners in the opening 7’, and keeping the Dragons on their tails. After Lacroix’s goal, Drexel perked up a bit, controlling most of the remaining play in the first half. Penn was outshot, 11-3, over the final 26’ of the opening half as the Dragons searched for the equalizer. Polkinhorne made three saves his first collegiate half of play, none better than finding the ball off the feet of Adam Arana in the 38’ following Drexel’s fifth corner kick of the first half. The defensive group in front of Polkinhorne was active throughout the first half, blocking five shots before they could even reach target – part of a six-block night.
As the second half started, Penn had to again fight off a Drexel charge. Polkinhorne made his biggest save of the night in the 50’, leaping to his left and getting a glove on a Felpe Fagundes shot on a free kick from just outside the penalty area on the right side of the pitch.
That stop spurred the Quakers on as Duke Lacroix charged down field and was just wide on a shot. Twice in the following minutes, Penn attempted to find space only to be whistled offside. After another Polkinhorne save in the 65’, the Red and Blue set up a pair of well-done offensive sequences – the second resulting in a goal.
Sam Hayward factored into both looks, just sending a one-touch shot high after a series of connected passes for the Quakers. Louis Schott picked off a Drexel pass at the mid-line, and carried the ball 20 yards into Drexel territory. He found Lacroix in space, allowing the shifty strike to do his thing and draw defenders. When Lacroix was finally corralled, he dropped a pass back to Gonzalez who quickly found Hayward inside the 8y line for the narrowly-missed chance.
Undaunted, the Quakers again ran transition less than two minutes later. Hayward was the finisher, wrangling a pass from Matt Poplawski after a nice Alex Reddy feed and stepping into a low liner from the left side to give Penn a 2-1 lead in the 68’.
Drexel did not wilt, coming at Penn following the second goal. Ken Tribbett finally found a Drexel goal in the 76’, heading in a free kick serve from Robert Liberatore.
That Drexel goal was perhaps the turning point Penn had been playing chicken with all night. Multiple times this season, the Quakers were stunned late while holding a lead and saw it all disappear. Would that be the case again?
In stepped Hayward.
The freshmen showed true grit in winning a loose ball in Drexel’s box less than a minute after Penn had conceded the goal, and he slipped a shot inside the right post to regain a two-goal lead for the Quakers before the Dragons knew what happened.
The night was not over, however, as the Dragons had one charge left. The next five shots of the match belonged to Drexel, the fifth finding the back of the net off the foot of Liberatore. He basically matched Hayward’s second goal, hopping on a loose ball in tight and sending it home in the 88’.
The Quakers had 2:38 between them and a win, and needed one more defensive stand to secure it. The Dragons earned their 11th corner of the match with 0:26 remaining, but the short-corner was defender well by Penn and the Quakers cleared the ball out one last time.
Max Polkinhorne made seven saves in his first collegiate start, successfully organizing his defense to negate all 11 of Drexel’s corners.
The Quakers (3-6-0) will start Ivy League play on Saturday (7 p.m.) at home against defending Ancient Eight champion, Cornell.