Drexel, Penn gear up for soccer tourney

Posted: November 21, 2013

IT MIGHT not be pandemic on the scale of March Madness, but there has been an outbreak of NCAA Tournament fever in University City this week.

The Drexel and Penn men's soccer teams clinched berths in this year's College Cup by winning the Colonial Athletic Association and Ivy League championships, respectively. Both teams will play first-round games tomorrow: The Dragons visit Old Dominion at 6 p.m. and the Quakers host Providence at 7.

Drexel and Penn are two of 48 teams nationwide that will battle for the right to play in the Final Four at PPL Park next month. UCLA, Notre Dame, Maryland and Georgetown are among the national powerhouses in the field.

It's the second consecutive postseason berth for the Dragons, the first time the program has achieved that feat. After a 40-year wait between tournament appearances ended last year, Drexel coach Doug Hess has brought the program an unprecedented era of success.

Coincidentally, the Dragons were drawn against an old conference rival. Old Dominion left the CAA for Conference USA over the summer as it upgraded its football program to the FBS. Hess said it helps his team to face an opponent that it knows well.

"When you go into an NCAA Tournament and it's all brand-new, there's a fear of the unknown," Hess said. "Meeting a team that we're familiar with takes away the fear of postseason play."

A few blocks to the south, Penn coach Rudy Fuller has guided the Quakers into the tournament for the third time in the last six seasons. Penn won its first Ivy League title since 2008, and its first outright championship since 1972.

Fuller has had two College Cup home games in his tenure at Penn, and he won both - against Seton Hall in 2002 and against Bucknell in 2010 - by 1-0 scores in overtime.

Fuller said he "would love to have a less stressful match" this time around, but he knows that knocking out Providence will be a big test. Indeed, Fuller said "this might be the toughest" College Cup first-round game he's ever faced.

"When you get in this situation at this time of year, and this type of environment, you have to expect that it's going to be a cagey type of game - and more often than not, a one-goal affair," Fuller said.

Tickets for Penn's game will cost $10 for adults and $5 for anyone with a college ID. They're available at the gate or through pennathletics.com, where you can also find directions to Rhodes Field.

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