PHILADELPHIAThe 2006 edition of Penn men’s soccer is gearing up for its first test in the season opener Sunday. The first challenger for the Quakers is in-state foe Lehigh. The teams will meet in at Ulrich Field in Bethlehem, Pa. Originally scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday, the game time was changed to a 7 p.m. start and can be heard live on lehighsports.com
“The team looks good,” said Penn’s James C. Gentle Head Coach of Men’s Soccer Rudy Fuller. “The guys came back very fit, which the coaching staff was pleased about. We are looking forward to Sunday. It’s always been a great game against Lehigh, and I don’t expect anything less this time out.”
The Quakers turned in a 9-6-1 season in 2005 highlighted by a 6-1 record through September and a thrilling late-game goal to claim the 2005 Penn Soccer Classic title over, you guessed it, Lehigh.
Penn scored first, just seven minutes into the contest, but Lehigh knotted the score before halftime leaving the teams to grind out the second stanza. Now-graduated John Rhodes made a dramatic return from injury with a header in the 77th minute to clinch the win.
With revenge on the Mountain Hawks’ minds, and both teams sporting strong rosters, this season’s rematch is shaping up to be another hit.
The Red and Blue return eight members of last season’s starting lineup and three of the top four scorers. The Quakers will look to the likes of Mike Klein and Alex Grendi, last season’s top scorers, as well as Kevin Unger, Omid Shokoufandeh and Andrew Ferry to be contributors in goal production.
On the other end, the team boasts a brick wall named Daniel Cepero. A senior, Cepero’s net skills frustrated many opponents as he blanked eight last season. In his career, he has registered 15 shutouts, putting him in a three-way tie for first in the Penn record book.
“I think Danny’s one of the best goalkeepers in the country right now, and certainly one of the best in the region,” said Fuller.
Scouting the competition, the Mountain Hawks are 1-0 this season after a big win over Fairleigh Dickinson (they will take on Rutgers Friday night). Lehigh closed out last season with a 10-4-2 record and a third-place Patriot League finish.
“Lehigh has established itself as one of the better teams in the region,” said Fuller. “The team is extremely well coached and has talented players in key spots.”
Against FDU, the Mountain Hawks stymied the offense, allowing just five shots while peppering the Knights’ defense with 21. The winning goal was provided by sophomore transfer Jim Taranto. He and fellow sophomore Adam Gadza were the standout scorers in preseason as well. Also on the Quaker radar is newcomer Kyle Evans, who was named one of College Soccer News’ Top-100 Freshmen.
Some notes on the Quakers as they start the 2006 season ...
Penn returns eight starters from its 2005 squad that went 9-6-1. Four of the team’s top five scorers return, and six players who scored two or more goals last year are back.
Last year’s freshman class is poised to continue its outstanding play in 2006. Sophomores Mike Klein and Alex Grendi return after sensational debut campaigns. Klein was the team’s leading scorer (five goals and two assists) while Grendi (two goals and five assists) was right behind him. The pair, along with Josh Baugh (two goals, two assists), Andrew Ferry (two goals, one assist) Kevin Unger (one goal, two assists) and Omid Shokoufandeh (one goal, one assist), comprised an outstanding recruiting class that accounted for over half of the team’s offense.
In 2005, goalkeeper Dan Cepero played every minute in front of net, and he stymied opposing shooters throughout the season. In 16 starts, Cepero posted eight shutouts, the most in the Ivy League. He started the 2005 season red-hot, conceding just one goal in four games and earning five clean sheets in the first seven games. Cepero is now tied for first all-time in program history with 15 career shutouts.
A large part of Cepero’s success was thanks to a solid backline which returns three of its four members. Juniors Keith Vereb and Jeff Livingston and sophomore Ryan Porch anchored the defense last year, and three other defenders senior Andy Howard, sophomore John Elicker and freshman Lee Rubenstein will vie for the fourth starting spot in 2006.
The midfield will be hurt by the graduation of two starters, but junior All-Ivy selection Derek Hobson and Grendi return. Hobson scored a goal and had an assist last year while Grendi served as the team’s top play creator with a team-high five assists.
The Quakers will be defending the Philadelphia Soccer Seven title after going 3-0 against city opponents last year. The Quakers did not concede a goal in city play, beating Temple, Villanova and Drexel by a combined 8-0 score. Head Coach Rudy Fuller was named the Philadelphia Soccer Seven Coach of the Year and four Quakers Cepero, Klein and departed seniors John Rhodes and Erik Violante were named all-stars.
This year’s schedule promises to be one of the most challenging in the history of the program. Six 2005 NCAA tournament participants - Brown, Marist, Yale, Hartwick, Seton Hall and Dartmouth will be on the slate. In addition to a tough Ivy League schedule, the Quakers’ Philadelphia Soccer Seven line-up will consist of Saint Joseph’s and La Salle. Regional rivals Lehigh, Rutgers, Duquesne and American round out the non-league schedule.