After defeating Princeton 3-0 to claim the Ivy League title this past weekend, the Quakers will host Rutgers at Penn Park Thursday at 7:00 p.m. for its first-round match of the NCAA DI men’s championship.
It has been nine years since the last time the Red and Blue clinched a tournament berth. The team has advanced as far as the quarterfinals three times in program history, but has yet to reach the semifinals in any of its NCAA tournament appearances. The Quakers were knocked out by Providence in the first round the last time they were in the tournament.
The official 48-team field was announced Monday, with the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Committee awarding Ivy League rival Cornell (13-3-1, 5-1-1 Ivy) a No.14 seed and first-round bye. Despite hoisting the championship trophy on Saturday and securing a victory against the Big Red during its head-to-head earlier in the regular season, Penn (12-2-2, 6-1) was denied a rank within the top-16.
Recent contests against Rutgers (10-4-6) have not fared in favor of the Red and Blue. The Quakers haven’t recorded a victory against the Scarlet Knights since 2002, going 0-4-1 in its most recent five matchups with the team.
And should the match go to penalties, the Scarlet Knights hold an advantage. While Penn has yet to come across a post-90-minute penalty kick situation, Rutgers recently claimed its Big Ten Quarterfinals advancement on penalties following a scoreless draw against Wisconsin.
The winner of Thursday’s game advances to the second round where it will face No. 3 seed Syracuse on its field. To emerge on top, Penn must prepare to host and contain some of Rutgers’ top offensive threats.
In Rutgers’ five most recent wins, senior midfielder Jackson Temple has been involved in four goals total. Building on his past as a former player for the Philadelphia Union, Temple currently is tied on his team for the most assists with eight, and stands second in goals and shots on goal.
At 5’5”, the midfielder is swift to spot and occupy narrow openings between defenders by escaping their fields of vision. However, Penn’s starting defenders are well-versed in over-the-shoulder awareness and communicating with goalkeeper Nick Christoffersen to keep the box guarded.
Senior forward MD Myers currently marks a frightful 0.597 shot-on-goal percentage — with 67 shots and 40 shots on goal — through which he has fired 13 goals for the Scarlet Knights as their leading scorer. With his double-digit scoring record, Myers is also tied for fourth in the most goals across the NCAA Division I.
Myers reached a midseason offensive peak when he scored in six straight games, a stat falling just short of Stitz’s scoring streak.
Also a product of the Philadelphia Union academy, Myers is returning to a familiar environment by stepping onto Penn Park this Thursday. Myers has been involved in three of Rutgers’ five goals scored through the Big Ten Tournament, and will serve an intense momentum to test Penn’s most experienced defenders.
Perhaps now better known as the architect of the corner-kick goal that doubled Rutgers’ lead in the Big Ten Tournament Championship game, junior forward Ola Maeland has been key to the Scarlet Knights’ postseason path into the NCAA Tournament. Maeland is on a streak of goal participation, having scored this past Sunday against Indiana and assisting in the game prior.
With a reliable defense structure that Penn has been fortifying since last season, and a thoroughly communicative goalkeeper right behind, the Quakers must confront the defensive challenge with confidence. Once Penn’s defense finds a comfortable footing, the offense near the opposite box on the field can find room to dig at Rutgers’ goal.
Several Penn players stand out in good form who will likely lead the Quaker campaign against the Scarlet Knights’ net.
The sophomore forward has been the Red and Blue’s biggest offensive weapon this season. With 10 goals — the most on the team — and six assists — the second most on the team — Korzeniowski has made his dominant presence on the field felt in every game.
A season highlight for the Quaker came during the team’s 4-1 win over Colgate, when Korzeniowski knocked in three goals to record the program’s first hat trick since 2017, earning him Ivy League Player of the Week and Philadelphia Soccer Six Player of the Week titles.
Tallying nine goals and seven assists during the regular season, the senior forward is leaving an impressionable mark on the Penn men’s soccer program in his final season as a Quaker.
All of Stitz goals came during a seven-game scoring streak in the middle of the season that began before Ancient Eight play picked up. Since the streak was broken, though, he’s recorded five assists — including one on the late game-winning goal against Cornell. Crafty strikes from the Quaker ignited much of the Red and Blue’s success this season.
Following an early-season run of goal involvement during Penn’s non-conference games, sophomore midfielder Charlie Gaffney has been fitting into another groove of good form inside the box through the late season. In the past three games, Gaffney has marked two assists and his first goal of the season, while building more confidence in front of the goal against stronger opponents.
This Thursday serves a perfect chance for Gaffney to emerge a hero once again, as he comes off an electric first goal of his season scored against Princeton away.
Rutgers enters the match this Thursday boosting off a 3-1 championship win over Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament. Home-field advantage for Penn, coupled with the energy from friends and family in the stands, will have to override the momentum of the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers’ head start on tournament form will be another kind of beast this Penn men’s soccer team must reckon with. But Penn’s roster serves plenty of names who are ready to receive its rivals.