PHILADELPHIA - With two weekends left in the women’s soccer season, and five teams still very much alive in the Ivy League title chase, the road to a championship has all sorts of twists and turns in it.
Still, Penn head coach Darren Ambrose is pretty certain he knows what the Quakers need on Saturday night.
“We need to beat Princeton,” he said.
Of that, there is no doubt. The Quakers (11-3-1, 4-1-0 Ivy) and Tigers (8-5-1, 4-1-0) will kick off on Rhodes Field at 7:30 p.m., following the Penn-Princeton men’s soccer match, and a lot will be on the line -- like a share of the Ivy League title for the winner, who will move a game up on everyone in the standings with one to play.
If the winner’s celebration on Saturday seems muted, however, it is because they know they still have business to take care of. Championships are nice; NCAA bids are better. And that is where things get complicated, because of the myriad possibilities of co-champions and tiebreakers.
In addition to Penn and Princeton, the other teams still in the hunt are Harvard, Yale and Brown, all at 3-2-0. Yale and Brown play each other Saturday night at 7 p.m. in what is essentially a knockout match, while Harvard is at Columbia at the same time. On next weekend’s docket, four of the teams involved in the race play each other, as Penn is at Harvard while Yale is at Princeton (Brown is the fifth wheel for this party, hosting Dartmouth).
In other words, trying to sort out the various “what-ifs”-- especially with ties being thrown into the mix -- could fill pages at this point.
“Our situation is no different than it would have been even if we had beaten or tied Brown last weekend,” noted Ambrose, whose team lost to the Bears, 1-0, when they gave up the winning goal with just 18 seconds left in the second overtime. “With the first tiebreaker being head-to-head competition, it does us no good to tie Princeton for the title if they end up beating us Saturday -- they will gain the automatic bid into NCAAs. So the urgency is the same as it would have been if we went into Saturday night unbeaten.”
Princeton will certainly present a formidable challenge. The Tigers have won eight of their last 10, including a seven-match win streak that coincided with the return of Canadian international Diana Matheson after she played in the Women’s World Cup in China. Matheson leads the Ivy League in with her per-game averages in goals, assists and points.
“Princeton is a different team with Diana on the field, and everyone knew they would pick it up when she returned,” said Ambrose. “To have a player of that caliber makes everyone else better around her, and right now they are playing with confidence. They know what they need to do here on Saturday, so I expect them to be sky-high. I think it will be a very entertaining game for fans.”
Penn, of course, has also been playing stellar soccer of late. The loss at Brown snapped a six-match win streak, and with 11 wins this season the Quakers are a threat to break the school record in that category if they get into the postseason.
Having played the full slate of matches this year, Penn sophomores Jessica Fuccello and Jess Rothenheber lead the league in overall goals, assists and points. In fact, fans can expect to see some offensive fireworks at Rhodes Saturday night -- Penn leads the Ivies in overall goals per game (2.20), but Princeton is first in that category when it comes to Ivy play (2.20).
“One of the keys to winning a title is defending your home field, so we need to do that Saturday,” said Ambrose. “We have played well at home all year, so I do not expect anything different this weekend. I am excited, the players are excited -- this is why you play sports, to be involved in games like this.”
Some notes entering Saturday night’s match...
Penn and Princeton kick off Saturday night for the 17th meeting in women’s soccer; the Tigers hold a 10-5-1 lead in the series.
Princeton has held the upper hand the last few years, winning three in a row including a 2-0 decision last year. The last time these teams met on Rhodes Field, in 2005, the Tigers won, 3-2.
At 11-3-1 overall, Penn has the fourth-most wins in a season in program history. Only the 1997 (14), 1999 (13) and 2001 (13) teams have more.
Penn got off to a 4-0-0 start in Ivy League play for the first time in school history, before losing last weekend at Brown when the Bears scored with just 18 seconds left in the second overtime.
Prior to last weekend’s loss at Brown, Penn had won six matches in a row. That tied a school record for consecutive wins in a season.
Saturday’s match features two teams that like to get it going offensively; Penn leads the Ivies in overall goals per game (2.20), but Princeton is first in that category when it comes to Ivy play (2.20).
At the other end, Penn has allowed just four goals in Ivy play this year, giving the Quakers the lowest goals-against average in the League (0.80).
Sophomore Jessica Fuccello had a five-match goalscoring streak stopped at Brown; all of the goals during that streak were Penn’s first in those matches. Fuccello leads the Ivy League in overall goals (10) and points (24)
Fuccello’s 10 goals are tied for sixth on Penn’s single-season list (along with Rachelle Snyder in 2001), and her 24 points put her alone in sixth on Penn’s single-season list in that category.
Fuccello has 19 goals for her short collegiate career. Believe it or not, that already places her in a tie for fifth on Penn’s all-time list, along with Carolyn Cross and Kellianne Toland.
Jess Rothenheber, meanwhile, is tied for first among Ivy players in assists (8) and third in points (18). With eight assists this season, she is third on Penn’s single-season list.
Sophomore Mara Fintzi and freshman Sarah Friedman are tied for fourth in the Ivies in overall assists (5). Fintzi is also eighth in overall points (13), while junior Molly Weir is ninth in that category (12).
Sophomore goalkeepers Sara Rose (0.82) and Cailly Carroll (0.96) rank third and fourth, respectively, in overall goals-against average. Rose has been getting the starts in recent weeks, with Carroll nursing a hand injury.
Princeton arrives at Rhodes Field off a 4-1 loss at Bucknell Wednesday night. Like Penn, the Tigers had a long winning streak -- seven matches -- but have lost two of their last three.
The Tigers got a huge boost when senior Diana Matheson returned from the Women’s World Cup in China (she played for Canada). She actually leads the Ivies with her per-game averages in overall goals, assists and points.