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PHILADELPHIA - The slate is wiped clean. For a Penn soccer team which has seen five matches decided by just one goal tip the opposite way, heading to Ithaca is a welcome note on the itinerary this weekend as the Quakers can glance at the non-conference slate in the rearview mirror and focus on a seven-game run inside the Ivy League.
The Ancient Eight season is always challenging, and Penn will kick off the 2012 run on Saturday night (7:30 p.m.) at one of the hottest teams in the country with a Cornell team entering the match as one of the three lone unbeaten teams in the country. The Big Red sit at 8-0-0, but if any two teams have been closer than Penn and Cornell these past two years, it hasn't been by much.
The last two meetings between the two teams have been razor thin. In 2010, Travis Cantrell was the hero for Penn, scoring with 1:04 to play to give Penn a 1-0 win in Ithaca. Last year, Cornell returned the favor with a 1-0 win at Rhodes Field when Daniel Haber scored with 1:27 to play.
All-time, Penn is 63-31-12 against the Big Red, and the Quakers have a historical pattern on their side entering the 2012 men's soccer season. The Red and Blue have won seven Ivy League championships, with three of them coming in years ending in two (1962, 1972 and 2002).
The Quakers have rounded into form of late on offense, averaging 3.0 goals-per-game over their last five matches. With 15 goals over the past two-plus weeks, the Red and Blue have counted on Stephen Baker and Duke Lacroix (five goals each) to pace the offense. After starting the season 0-6-0, Penn is 2-1-0 in the last seven days, outscoring opponents 11-6 over that stretch. Penn's offense is coming together at a time where its defense is tightening up as well. Penn allowed 2.8 goals-per-game over its six matches to start the season, but has lowered that number to 2.0 over the last three weekends. For the Quakers to reach their goals, though, that number will need to continue to drop.
On Saturday, Penn will face arguably its toughest challenge on defense this season in the form of Haber - the nation's leading goal scorer with 13 goals in eight matches. The reigning scoring champion in the Ivy League, Haber as already blown by his goal total from 2011 where he posted nine markers. Haber's 13 goals account for 57% of Cornell's scoring in 2012, with Conor Goepel second on the team with three goals. Haber is tied with Nico Nissl for the assist lead on the Big Red, each setting up four goals.
Senior goalkeeper Rick Pflasterer has been a mainstay in goal for the Big Red the last four seasons. Last season, Pflasterer posted a 0.60 goals-against average, a single-season record for the Big Red. This season, he is right at that number again, sitting at 0.64 after allowing just five goals in eight matches.