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Young Penn team looks to compete in Ivy League

Previewing the Penn men’s soccer season

Penn Athletics

Record in 2015: 3-11-2 overall, 1-5-1 in Ivy League
Head Coach: Rudy Fuller (19th season)
Key Losses: Defenders Griffin Heffner and Aaron Chen, goalkeepers Max Polkinhorne and Nick Savino
Key Returners: Midfielders Matt Poplawski, Austin Kuhn and Joe Swenson, forwards Alec Neumann and Jerel Blades and defender Sam Wancowicz
Key Additions: Defender Brandon Bartel, forward Sam Hefter, midfielder Dami Omitaomu and forward Arty Kouzine
MLS Academy Players: Brandon Bartel (Orlando City), Jerel Blades, Gideon Metrikin and Joe Swenson (New York Red Bulls), Sam Hefter (LA Galaxy), Marc Kaizi-Lutu (Seattle Sounders)
Key Matches: Creighton away (Sept. 9), La Salle (Sept. 17), Lehigh away (Sept. 20), Drexel (Sept. 24), Delaware (Oct. 5), Dartmouth away (Oct. 15), Villanova away (Oct. 19)

As an Ivy League program, the Penn Quakers will be kicking off their season a week later than their Philadelphia Soccer Six rivals with a Friday night home game against American at 7 p.m.

The Quakers are coming off a disappointing season that saw them collect only four points in league play while scoring just three goals in five losses and a draw in their last six league matches.

Just two seasons ago, Penn won the Ivy League with a 5-1-1 record and hosted a first round NCAA tournament game.

Reducing their goal differential - it was minus 19 - will be key to making noise in the conference this season. Senior captain Alec Neumann will be counted for a big season offensively after a down year that saw him score only twice, which still somehow tied him for first on the team. Neumann’s co-captains Sam Wancowicz on the back line and Matt Poplawski in the midfield will be charged with cutting down opponents chances on the other side of the field.

Poplawski missed most of the season last year after starting the first six games in a holding midfield role following an honorable mention All-Ivy campaign in 2013. Poplawski and Neumann, along with goalkeeper Nick Savino are the only seniors on a roster with seven freshman, 10 sophomores and four juniors.

Rudy Fuller’s freshmen class includes former PA Classics forward and Bryn Mawr native Arty Kouzine and Orlando City midfielder Brandon Bartel along with players from Minnesota (Nagu Chidambaram), New York (Casey Barone), California (Sam Hefter and Promise Adebayo-lge) and Tennessee (Dami Omitaomu).

Considering how young the team is, there are a lot of unknowns heading into Fuller’s 19th year at the helm in West Philly. Early non-conference games against American, Creighton and Omaha will be an early test of that youth and derby matches against Drexel and Villanova will be important for bragging rights, but the seven-game Ivy League schedule will ultimately determine how successful a campaign it is.

After all, the last Quaker appearance in the postseason in 2013 was in a season where their overall record was just 8-8-2.