M. Soccer blanked again in New York

Matt Wurst
Date Published: 
Daily Pennsylvanian

With one goal in the first half and two in the second, the Lions easily put Penn to rest.

Mediocrity, at best.

That's all the Penn men's soccer team (3-8, 1-3 Ivy League) can shoot for at this point. With just a few weeks left in the season and all but mathematically eliminated from Ivy League title contention, the Quakers must win all of their remaining games to salvage a winning season.

The most recent of Penn's eight losses came Saturday, a 3-0 loss at Columbia (4-5-1). Only three Ivy League games remain on the schedule, so, at best, the Quakers can duplicate their 4-3 Ivy record from a year ago. At best. The Red and Blue still have games at Yale and against Princeton -- two of the Ancient Eight's better teams -- so the chances of matching last year are slim.

Columbia capitalized on the many scoring chances the Quakers gave up, including several free kicks deep in Penn territory. Freshman forward Leslie Fitzpatrick scored first for the Lions, just before halftime. Sophomore Andrew Bednarzik's free kick just outside the 18-yard box connected with Fitzpatrick, who beat a Penn defender and headed the ball past sophomore Penn goalkeeper Mike O'Conner.

It was all Columbia would need. Ten minutes into the second half, Bednarzik was given another free kick in the Quakers' defensive end, and it yielded the same result. This time, Bednarzik found junior Rino Matarazzo inside the Penn six-yard box to put Columbia ahead 2-0. Just six minutes later, Matarazzo scored again, to make it 3-0. Penn was unable to put any of its nine shots past former U.S. national under-20 goalie Matt Napolean.

"We got ourselves in shooting distance, some shots were blocked," Penn coach George O'Neill said. "The decision-making in taking the shots wasn't that good. We played some nice football at times, but it looked to me as if we were sluggish and we were half a step behind them, as if they were wide awake at 11 a.m. and we hadn't waken up yet. That's a mental thing."

It wasn't supposed to be this way. The Quakers shocked everybody at the end of last season, winning or tying eight of the last nine games, and lost no players to graduation. Expectations at the outset of the season were obviously high. Maybe too high, because after winning the first two games, the Quakers have lost eight of their last nine games, including a streak of seven consecutively.

"You start asking yourself, 'Did we as a team think after that great finish last year that it would automatically happen' and leave it at that or say 'This is what got us here last year, concentration and communication,' and work ethic has always been our goal," O'Neill said.

But they were communicating more, they were certainly coming ready to play, or challenging for every ball right from the first whistle. That's what I see missing right now."

Why has this season turned into a diametrical opposite of last season? In its 11 games this season, Penn has been outscored 18-10, having been shutout five times already this season. In the two nationally competitive tournaments they played in, the Quakers lost all four games and only managed two goals. O'Neill blames the mental preparation and readiness of his team for the losses.

"What I have difficulty with is when someone shows up to the game and they're not mentally ready to play," O'Neill said. "We've certainly spoken about it and addressed it and no one can give me an answer when I ask what it is that I can do to help them get through this or why we don't all come mentally ready to go. I know they all want to win."