PHILADELPHIA – The 2014 officially kicks off for the University of Pennsylvania’s men’s soccer team this weekend, with the Quakers hosting a pair of matches at Rhodes Field. Up first for the Red and Blue is a University City rivalry match with Drexel (Friday, 7 p.m.) followed by a Sunday meeting with Central Connecticut State at 4:30.
Both matches will be streamed live for free on the Ivy League Digital Network as part of its opening weekend free preview promotion.
The Quakers are coming off a 2013 season where they claimed the Ivy League championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four seasons. Penn was the class of the Ancient Eight with a 5-1-1 mark in League play, but enters the new season with a renewed focus on success in the non-conference slate after struggling away from Ivy matches.
Penn returns 10 letterwinners from its championship squad, including five who started 11 or more matches in 2013.
Leading the way offensively for Rudy Fuller’s squad is Duke Lacroix. The reigning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year and a three-time All-Ivy selection, Lacroix has 18 career goals and is coming off a season where he netted eight goals and totaled 19 points – both second in the Ivy League. Recently named one of TopDrawerSoccer.com’s Top-100 players in the country, Lacroix enters 2014 with 45 career points, just five away from becoming the fourth Penn player since 1978 to reach the 50-point mark for his career.
In addition to Lacroix, Penn returns its other leading scorer in Alec Neumann. A second-team All-Ivy selection as a freshman in 2013, Neumann totaled 14 points on five goals and four assists. Neumann was the leading rookie scorer in the Ivy League last season with his 14 points, adding Penn’s lone goal in regulation during its NCAA Tournament match against Providence.
The Red and Blue will also return a pair of All-Ivy midfielders this season in first-team selection Louis Schott and honorable mention choice Matt Poplawski. The Washington natives added four combined goals last season in addition to stellar midfield play. After missing the early portion of 2013 with injury, Forrest Clancy played in the final 12 matches and was sixth on the team with 21 shots. He is expected to move into a starting role this season and is dangerous on restarts. Senior Mariano Gonzalez-Guerineau has appeared in 41 matches over his career, and is a change-of-pace option in the midfield.
The backline for the Quakers will see seniors Kamar Saint-Louis and Jason deFaria return. The pair has a combined 72 matches of experience and their veteran presence will be crucial to a unit which is likely to see a pair of freshmen step in to replace the departed Johnny Dolezal and Nicky Yin. Newcomers Sam Wancowicz and Luka Martinovic are expected to contribute right away defensively for a Quaker group which would love to build on last season’s six shutouts. Junior Griffin Heffner started eight matches last season and is another player in the mix for minutes at center back.
In goal, Penn will likely look to Max Polkinhorne to take over full-time between the pipes. He appeared in five matches with four starts least season, and posted a 4-0-1 record with a 0.64 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. The last time Penn fans saw Polkinhorne in the net, he was making 10 saves against Providence in the NCAA Tournament.
Penn's first opponent is a familiar one in neighboring Drexel. The Quakers and Dragons have met 40 previous times, with the Quakers holding a 29-9-2 edge in the all-time series. Last season, Penn claimed the “University City Derby” with a 3-2 win at Rhodes Field. Max Polkinhorne made seven saves for his first collegiate win.
The Dragons are 2-0 on the young season, exerting early dominion over the city of Philadelphia with wins over Temple (1-0 OT) and Villanova (1-0) to begin 2014. Joaquin del Roasario has a goal and an assist to begin the season, with Michele Pataia adding Drexel’s other goal. Tyler Afflerbach has played both matches in goal for the Dragon, making nine saves without conceding a goal.
Drexel was chosen second in the preseason CAA poll after back-to-back conference regular season championships and NCAA appearances. The Dragons graduated five starters from last season, but return three All-CAA players in Pataia, Afflerbach and defender Robert Liberatore.
On Sunday, Penn will take on Central Connecticut State for the first time in program history. The NEC regular season champion last season, the Blue Devils were picked as the preseason favorite by the league’s coaches for 2014. CCSU returns four All-NEC selections from last season, including second-team selection Zach Zurita who led the team in goals (six) and points (17) in 2013.
Seniors Jose Gamboa and Stephen Walmsley are also returning second-team All-NEC selections or the Blue Devils. Gamboa was a key contributor for CCSU’s defense which posted eight shutouts last season. Their defense stood tall in front of Josef Abele who posted a 1.18 GAA in his first season as starter en route to a 9-4 record and second-team All-NEC honors.
The Blue Devils have one match under their belts for 2014, a 1-0 win over Stony Brook. Freddy Mettellus scored the game-winner in the 53’, and Abele made the three saves he was called upon for to notch the clean sheet.