PHILADELPHIA – After navigating the bulk of a challenging non-conference schedule, the University of Pennsylvania’s men’s soccer team begins the defense of its Ivy League championship in earnest on Saturday, heading to Ithaca to take on Cornell at 4 p.m.
The Quakers (4-4-0) claimed their first outright Ivy title since 1972 last season, posting a 5-1-1 mark in Ivy matches. The Big Red (6-2-1) finished sixth last season, but are just two seasons removed from an outright League crown of their own in 2012.
Saturday’s match will be the 109th all-time between the two schools, Penn owning a 64-32-12 advantage in the all-time series. It is highly likely that Saturday’s contest will go down to the wire. Eight of the last nine meetings between Penn and Cornell have been decided by one goal. The only contest not decided by one marker – a 2-2 draw in 2009.
Last season, the Quakers began their march to an Ivy championship with a 1-0 win over the Big Red in Philadelphia. Then-senior Jonny Dolezal had the winner, redirecting a Duke Lacroix service off the post and to the back of the net in the 81st minute. Max Polkinhorne, making his second career start, had seven saves for the shutout.
Penn will be looking to Polkinhorne to find that magic again on Saturday against a Big Red team which is coming off its highest-scoring match of the season. Cornell was perfectly efficient in a 5-0 win over Buffalo, scoring on all five of its shots on goal. The five-goal output practically doubled the Big Red’s season output to that point, giving Cornell 11 goals through nine matches.
Cornell is riding a four-match winning streak, each a shutout. The Big Red have not allowed a goal in 362:14 of game play dating back to a 3-0 loss at No. 20 Syracuse on September 16. Cornell is ninth in the nation in team goals-against average at 0.42 and fourth in shutout percentage (.780) with clean sheets in seven of nine matches this season.
Penn may have the answer to Cornell’s defensive prowess in the form of the Ivy League’s most dangerous offensive tandem. Alec Neumann and Duke Lacroix each have five goals this season, tied for tops among Ivy players – the duo is tied with Cornell’s Connor Goepel. Neumann is also level with Goepel for the overall scoring lead, each with 13 points.
On Tuesday, Neumann and Lacroix each scored for the Quakers in a 2-1 win over Saint Joseph’s in double overtime. Those goals extended career-best scoring streaks for the strikers, Lacroix up to five games and Neumann to four.
Neumann’s 13 points have the sophomore one away from his total from his rookie season. For his career, he is averaging 1.04 points-per-game. Lacroix is right behind him, with 58 points in 59 career matches.