The year 2005 was one to remember for the Penn State men’s soccer program.
The Nittany Lions, led by former coach Barry Gorman, won the Big Ten championship and defeated four ranked opponents en route to an impressive run to the second round of the NCAA championships.
Even though there are quite a few key differences between that squad and the 2012 version of the Lions, a key similarity is success on the road in conference play.
With Sunday’s win in Evanston, Ill., against No. 21 Northwestern, the Lions will finish the regular season with an undefeated road record (2-0-1) in the Big Ten — the first time they’ve done that since 2005.
“Our players have really bought in, and they know we can win on the road,” Lions’ coach Bob Warming said.
Dating back even further, the other most recent time the Lions went undefeated in the Big Ten on the road was in 1998.
Considering this, the ability to have success in conference play away from Jeffrey Field has eluded the program for much of the past decade or so.
Leaving out 2005 and this year, the Lions have recorded just four Big Ten road wins since the 2001 season.
Specifically in the four years prior to Warming taking over in 2010, the Lions tallied just two in-conference away wins.
With that being said, it’s rather difficult to collect wins behind enemy lines, especially in a historically stiff Big Ten conference.
“Winning in the Big Ten is tough in general, but on the road, even getting a draw is difficult,” Lions’ leading scorer Julian Cardona said. “The traveling is always over a long distance, so there is that added strain on the body. Also, each field has its own characteristics that make it difficult for opponents to play on.”
Michigan State head coach Damon Rensing agrees that winning on the road is extremely difficult in conference play.
Rensing, who was an assistant coach at Michigan State for a decade before being promoted, has had his share of Big Ten road games and pointed out that a team playing at home is tough to overcome as an away club.
“You only get three Big Ten home games, so the home team is going to be fired up. There will be bigger crowds. There’s going to a comfort level, and they are representing their school,” Rensing said.
The coach at Michigan State, who lost to the Lions 2-1 on Oct. 13 at Jeffrey Field, also believes that road teams need to withstand early pressures of a game and duke it out in the second half.
“On the road, it’s hard to win a game in the first 20 minutes, but it’s easy to lose it… In the game against Penn State, we gave up a goal in the first 15 or 20 minutes. After that, it was an uphill battle from there,” Rensing said.
Not only did the Lions take care of the Spartans at home, but its most recent performance at Northwestern has the team sitting pretty.
When looking at the Big Ten picture, Penn State is currently at the top of the conference standings despite Indiana’s No. 11 national ranking.
Through games of Oct. 21, Penn State leads the Big Ten with 10 points, seven of which came on the road.
This success is breeding team confidence for the Lions — and at the right time with the Big Ten tournament just around the bend, starting Nov. 7.
“We have a load of confidence right now after the win [against Northwestern],” senior midfielder Daniel Burnham said. “Hopefully we can finish our last two games strong and have a nice winning streak heading into the conference tournament.”