Men's soccer vs. Maryland, Sload (24) and Penn State players

Forward Christian Sload (24) and Penn State players celebrate after Sload scored the game-winning goal in overtime while a Maryland player lies on the ground after the men’s soccer game against Maryland at Jeffery Field on Oct. 29, 2019. The No. 16 Nittany Lions defeated the No. 17 Terrapins in overtime, 3-2.

It’s been nearly five years since Penn State has played postseason soccer.

As a team that has lived in the shadows of the women’s program in recent years, the Nittany Lions have not just had a winning season, but only suffered two losses along the way.

It’s the first time since 2014 that Penn State has finished with a winning record, which is also the last time it has made an NCAA tournament appearance.

From the 2015-18 seasons, Penn State finished with a combined record of 26-35-9.

In fact, Penn State has combined for almost as many wins in this season and 2014 alone as the program won over the four-year postseason drought.

But how does this year’s group compare to the 2014 team?

Men's soccer vs. Maryland, Sload (24), Molloy (8) and May (21)

Forward Christian Sload (24), midfielder Aaron Molloy (8) and midfielder Kyle May (21) run toward the bench to celebrate with teammates after Sload scored the game-winning goal in overtime after the men’s soccer game against Maryland at Jeffery Field on Oct. 29, 2019. The No. 16 Nittany Lions defeated the No. 17 Terrapins in overtime, 3-2.

RPI

If there is one factor that’s in favor of Penn State this year, it’s the RPI. In the latest RPI rankings on Nov. 4, Penn State moved to No. 9 in the nation.

With only two losses on the season while playing in one of, if not the, toughest conferences in men’s soccer, along with playing multiple challenging nonconference opponents such as Stanford, UCF and James Madison has helped the Nittany Lions’ cause.

Penn State opened up the season with a 5-0 loss to a consistently difficult Stanford team, but has boosted its resume with wins over Maryland, Villanova and Pitt.

In the 2014 season, Penn State finished No. 25 in the RPI, but only had two wins that were ranked in the upper-tier of the final RPI rankings of the season. Its two wins were over No. 17 Indiana and No. 26 Akron.

Penn State lost 1-0 to Michigan State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament in 2014. It won its first matchup in the NCAA tournament 2-1 vs Hartwick, but lost in the next round to Syracuse by the same scoreline.

Second half team

Penn State has consistently been a better side in the second half of its games, due in part to Cook’s ability to adjust at the half.

On the year, Penn State has scored only 10 goals in the first half of its 16 games. However, the Nittany Lions have scored 23 goals in the second half and overtime.

Comparing this to the 2014 team, Penn State scored 10 goals in the first half of its game, as well, while scoring 18 in the second half.

The two seasons are eerily similar in how the Nittany Lions have been more consistent in the second half, but it’s only one of the similar aspects between the two seasons.

Dynamic duo

This season, Liam Butts and Aaron Molloy have been Penn State’s two most consistent players in the attack, combining for 16 of the Nittany Lions’ 33 goals on the year.

Butts, a true freshman, has eight goals on the season, which is tied for the most on the team.

Molloy has eight goals as well, but he has five assists to go along with that, too.

Behind those two is Christian Sload, who has the same amount of assists as Molloy but has four goals on the season.

In the 2014 season, the Nittany Lions relied on the dynamic duo of Connor Maloney and Mikey Minutillo. The two combined for 18 of Penn State’s 29 goals that season.

Maloney was the lone double-digit scorer with 10 goals and three assists, and Minutillo had eight goals with four assists.

Outside of Maloney and Minutillo, Penn State had only two players on the team with multiple goals, and all other scorers had only one.

While Penn State has had contributions from Sload, especially down the stretch, it has largely been a two-man show for the Nittany Lions this season once again.

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