Men's Soccer Readies for Ivy League/BIG EAST Challenge

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Two weeks ago, Penn sat on the precipice of a five-match homestand to begin 2012 excited about the chance to show the Rhodes Field faithful what to expect from a new season. As the run at home comes to a close this weekend, the Quakers have one more shot to pick up points on home turf as the Red and Blue host Villanova (Fri, 7:30 p.m.) on the first day of the annual Ivy League/BIG EAST Challenge. On Sunday, the Quakers make their first trip out of University City with a trip to the nation's capital to take on Georgetown (1 p.m.)

Four one-goal losses have the Quakers sitting at 0-4-0 entering the weekend, each loss more frustrating than the one previous. Last weekend alone, Penn saw any momentum from a game-tying goal against Air Force slip away just 36 seconds later when the Flacons regained the lead off a restart. The next game, despite outshooting Hartford, 24-13, Penn couldn't find the back of the cage until there were less than 45 seconds to play in a 2-1 loss t o the Hawks.

Finding the first win will not get any easier for the Quakers on Friday as they head into the match without Stephen Baker. The junior forward , who leads the team - and Ivy League - in shots taken, received a red card in Sunday's match and will have to sit out on Friday per NCAA rules. Baker's running mate at the top of Penn's formation, Duke Lacroix, has been coming on strong of late with 15 total shots this season. Neither have recorded a goal despite their combined 36 shots recorded, but truly could not be any close to recording the all-important first tally of the season.

Senior midfielder Travis Cantrell has two goals for Penn - each coming in the final minute of a match. With Baker out on Friday, Cantrell will be called upon to increase his offensive game even more to provide secondary options for the Penn attack. Freshman Sam Engs recorded his first collegiate goal last Friday night against Air Force, and observers have to feel confident that it is a matter of time before fellow rookie Forrest Clancy scores his first marker. The rookie from London has come off the bench in all four matches this season, and taken six shots while factoring in heavily on both free kicks and corner kicks.

On Friday, Penn looks to continue its dominance in the Philadelphia Soccer Six against city rival Villanova. The Quakers are 16-5-4 against PS6 programs since the 2002 season, with a 3-3-1 mark against the Wildcats over that same span. The last two meetings with 'Nova have come during the Ivy League/BIG EAST Challenge, each side winning one match. Last year, Baker scored twice on the Main Line in a 2-1 win for the Quakers.

Villanova enters the weekend with a 4-1-0 record, its only loss coming last weekend to Air Force in the Penn Soccer Classic at Penn Park. 'Nova has outscored opponents, 12-4, over its first five matches, including wins of 5-1 and 4-1 to start the season. Last weekend, Villanova defeated Hartford, 2-1, before a 1-0 loss to Air Force. The Falcons scored in the 78th minute, erasing a 25-13 edge in shots for the Wildcats.

Four different players have at least two goals for the Wildcats, led by Kyle Soroka who has three after scoring five all of last season. Sophomore Oscar Umar has two goals, matching his total from 2011. Senior goalkeeper John Fogarty is picking up where he left off in 2011, with a .842 save percentage and a 0.62 GAA. Last year, he posted a .824 save percentage and a goals-against average of 0.95.

On Sunday, the Quakers head to No. 12 Georgetown. The Hoyas enter the weekend with a 5-0-1 record and have allowed just five goals in six matches. Freshman Brandon Allen has been a world-beater for the Hoyas, scoring four goals and an assist in his first six collegiate matches. Three of his goals have been game-winning strikes and the US U-18 National Team member had scored in four consecutive games before being shutout in Georgetown's last contest. Junior Steve Neumann and Senior Ian Christianson are returning All-Region players who are also dangerous in the attacking area.