Penn State Men’s Soccer Goalie Decision Still Undecided As Postseason Looms
Penn State men’s soccer has been known for different lineup choices during the 2019 regular season. Head coach Jeff Cook went all 16 matches without fielding consecutive starting elevens. However, that hasn’t fazed the No. 16 Nittany Lions, who will enter the Big Ten tournament as the No. 2 seed.
While there has been competition for spots all throughout the team, the most notable has been between goalkeepers Josh Levine and Kris Shakes.
Levine, a redshirt junior from Rockville Centre, New York, was the assumed first choice for the 2019 season. Levine started in 14 of the 17 matches the previous season, taking over from previous first choice Arie Amman. The New York native also earned the No. 1 jersey, known in the soccer world for being the jersey of the starting net-minder, for the start of the 2019 season.
However, after a blowout loss to Stanford to begin the season, it appeared that Levine’s status may be in jeopardy. He was immediately replaced by Shakes for the following match, a 4-1 victory at Stony Brook. The picture seemed clearer in early October when Levine began to get a run of starts, before Cook gave Shakes starts in five of the last six matches.
Now that the team is in a one and done scenario, the mastermind who has propelled the Nittany Lions into national relevancy said he’ll make the decision on a match-by-match basis.
“I’ve been saying all season long, we have two outstanding goalkeepers,” Cook said. “We have to use all of our resources. We believe in all of our guys. There are some considerations to what we expect the game to be like.”
The two keepers split the 16 matches evenly, each playing in eight. Of the 20 goals conceded, Shakes has dominated the goals-against statistic, letting just six past compared to Levine’s 14.
It’s worth noting, however, that Levine’s quality of opposition is significantly higher. The redshirt junior started against three ranked opponents and two sides receiving votes. Shakes, meanwhile, matched up against only one ranked opponent and one side receiving votes.
Due to those statistics, it’s reasonable to assume that Cook is giving the nod to Levine in the high-pressure situations, while letting him rest against teams where three points is a foregone conclusion.
However, the most notable win of the season, a 3-2 overtime comeback against Maryland, saw Shakes between the sticks. For this match, Cook had a reason to put faith in the freshman.
“We thought tonight would see some close shots because of how powerful Maryland are up front,” Cook said following last Tuesday’s victory. “Kris is really good [in a] reaction situation. Not saying Josh could not make that save, but that is Kris’s strength.”
The choice paid dividends for the Nittany Lions, as Shakes came up with a game saving reactionary stop in overtime against the Terrapins.
Shakes’ performances down the stretch have been rewarded with more matches under Cook, and the Sunrise, Florida native hasn’t disappointed. He once again came up big in the decision day matchup against Rutgers, as his first half reactionary save preserved the deadlock in an eventual victory for the Nittany Lions.
Shakes has gotten the majority of the opportunities as of late, but Levine has more experience against top opposition. Ultimately, Cook will have to pick his poison as Penn State prepares for Wisconsin in its Big Ten quarterfinal showdown.
“That is the tough part of my job,” Cook said. “It is a tough problem, but I am happy to have two great guys to choose from.”
Regardless of who starts, the players will have be their for each other. This team-first mentality has been crucial for the over-performing Nittany Lions.
“Once we started to comer together, and I realized how committed this team was to being together, I think that anything is possible,” Cook said.
Either Shakes or Levine will take the field next on Sunday, November 10. The No. 2 seed Nittany Lions will host seventh-placed Wisconsin in one of four Big Ten quarterfinals at 1 p.m.
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