Men’s Soccer Gearing Up To Face No. 5 Indiana In Big Ten Quarterfinals
When Penn State Men’s soccer traveled to New Jersey to face Rutgers two weeks ago, the team’s season seemed like a lost cause. The Lions had won a total of three games, scored only eight goals in 13 matches, and languished at the bottom of the Big Ten table alongside the Scarlet Knights and Northwestern.
Then, with gritty determination and an offensive explosion, the Nittany Lions clawed their way out of a season-long rut. They crushed Rutgers 6-2 in their finest attacking display of the year that day, and followed up their impressive victory with back-to-back wins against James Madison and Northwestern.
This revival has placed them safely in the No. 7 seed spot and quarterfinals of this month’s Big Ten tournament. They’ll face the tournament’s No. 2 seed, national powerhouse No. 5 Indiana, in Bloomington on Sunday. Penn State lost to Indiana at Jeffrey Field in an intense, single-goal game earlier in the season.
— Penn State Men’s Soccer (@PennStateMSOC) October 30, 2017
Due to a rule change in 2009, the team with the most points in the conference at the end of the regular season is seeded first in the Big Ten tournament. The winner of the tournament earns an automatic berth in the NCAA national playoffs.
Penn State has never won the Big Ten playoff tournament, despite several first-place finishes at the end of the regular season, the most recent coming in 2013. The Nittany Lions haven’t made it past the quarterfinals since 2011. To improve on this record and have a chance against the Hoosiers on Sunday, the Lions will need to capitalize on a tactical change and several in-form players who have contributed to their end-of-season winning streak.
For the past two seasons, head coach Bob warming has favored a three-center back, two-wingback system that has left his team vulnerable on the counterattack and constricted its width going forward. By moving his two wingbacks to true, reserved outside-back positions, and starting captain Dani Marks and sophomore Brandon Hackenberg in the center of defense against Northwestern, Warming opened crucial wide space for Ethan Beckford and Aymar Sigue to exploit.
This move also provided a more solid defensive base for the team that severely limited Northwestern’s opportunities in the first half. Defensive strength will be crucial against Indiana’s lethal attack, making the back four a smart move for the long term.
Aaron Molloy and Ethan Beckford
Penn State’s attacking strength is derived from the resurgent Ethan Beckford (three goals in three games) and midfield magician Aaron Molloy. Molloy is best when deployed as a deep, defensive midfielder and gets forward to shoot or assist from outside the box — or the half. Beckford is most dangerous when dribbling in from the outside to shoot or pass. Both must be free to work their magic against Indiana.
— Penn State Men’s Soccer (@PennStateMSOC) September 4, 2017
The redshirt freshman goalkeeper has been outstanding for the Nittany Lions this season, averaging an impressive six saves a game since replacing senior Evan Finney as Warming’s first choice. He will face plenty of shots against the Hoosiers, who have scored 37 goals this season. It’s crucial to the Lions’ title hopes that the young goalkeeper continues to play well.