While a 5-0 defeat to No. 5 Stanford isn’t exactly the outcome coach Jeff Cook — or any coach by that matter — would want to start its season, a few learning curves are bound to occur with a team as young as Penn State.
Penn State struggled collectively as a group to gain momentum in Stanford’s attacking third. While the Nittany Lions did create a few chances for themselves, it’s critical to be clinical against a top team like the Cardinal and take advantage of those scarce opportunities.
Despite the daunting scoreline, Cook looked at the positives out of his team’s season opener.
“I think people would think I’ve lost my mind, but I think I actually see a lot of encouraging signs from that performance against an outstanding team in Stanford,” Cook said. “This should prove to be a very important game, even though it’s a tough result right now to digest... It’s not enjoyable to be on the wrong end of that score.”
Although it’s a tough result to swallow, there’s a positive that Penn State can take from tonight that doesn’t show up in the box score — experience.
Penn State started four freshmen, with three freshmen utilized as substitutes making seven total to see the field.
The Nittany Lions head into the season with 13 new faces on the roster, with 11 of those being freshman; the other two being graduate transfers. With a young team, it takes time to build chemistry and the youth had some bright spots against one of the best teams in the country over the last several years.
From the start, true freshman Liam Butts asserted himself with some strong hold up play for Penn State. From personal judgement, the Nittany Lions mainly played a 4-3-3, with Butts being the main striker. Up until the 10-minute mark, Penn State played with enthusiasm and pressured the Cardinal with a high defensive line.
Penn State had its moments when it remained competitive with Stanford, but it struggled with giving up goals in twos. In the first half, Stanford scored its first at the 10-minute mark, then scored its second off a penalty kick three minutes later.
In the second half, Stanford scored at the 62 and 67-minute mark. As a young team will learn, giving up a goal can’t affect your confidence. Letting your guard down against a strong team like Stanford breeds failure.
Stanford continuously allowed the Penn State defense to crash towards the middle of the field, then stretched them wide to create space in the box.
“It’s a big ask, you’re a first-year student-athlete coming in, you know, I think maybe a little bit of a big task tonight but I think they did a good job,” Cook said in regards to the freshman group’s performance overall.
Penn State now faces a three-game road trip, starting with Stony Brook on Monday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., in which it will look to gain its first points of the season.