Penn State men’s soccer ties Rhode Island in season opener

Story posted August 26, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Aidan Torok

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA - Penn State kicked off its season Thursday night against Rhode Island, and the year started on a sour note after finishing in a 1-1 tie at Jeffrey Field.

The Nittany Lions played sloppy at times and looked overmatched but were able to seemingly put the game out of reach.

“I felt the guys worked really hard. I can’t fault their effort,” coach Jeff Cook said. “But I really feel we are better than what we showed tonight.”

Until the last five minutes of the match when senior defenseman Jalen Watson was called for a penalty inside the 18-yard box on a controversial call.

“ I [the Penalty] is harsh. I can see why the referee gave the call. But disappointingly it went against us,” Cook said.

Rafa Villanueva played hero and converted the penalty kick. A tough finish for a team with such promise.

Thursday’s match is nothing to be discouraged about, Rhode Island is a very solid team that will contend in the Atlantic Ten, but the game seemed to be wrapped up. The frustrating part is Penn State wasn’t able to put the Rams away.

Penn State’s offense seemed to stall after the first goal. They lost that sense of urgency, while Rhode Island never gave up and kept the same intensity.

The Nittany Lions had sky-high expectations coming into the contest and for good reason.  Last year’s squad finished 13-7-1 and capped off their season with a Big Ten Tournament championship against Indiana, 3-0. The season ended in disappointment with a second-round exit in the NCAA Tournament against Hofstra, but there is no reason that game should derail everything this program has built.

The Nittany Lions lost some of their firepower, but they’re still ranked No. 21 in the preseason poll.  Peter Mangione, Seth Kuhn and Femi Awodesu were all named to the Big Ten preseason watch list.

However, the No. 21 team in the country didn’t play like it. The rust from the offseason showed. Rhode Island came out of the gates firing and pushing the tempo. The Rams dominated possession and had five shots on goal to the Nittany Lions' zero at the half.

Senior goalkeeper, Kris Shakes, was the savior for Penn State in the first half and one of the lone bright spots. Recording five saves and bailing out his backline time and time again.

“[Shakes] shot stopping is, if not the best, one of the best in the country,” Cook said.

Once the second half started, there was a noticeable difference. The Nittany Lions came out playing with intensity, and it paid off.

Sean Bettenhausen made dividends and found the back of the net beating freshman goalkeeper Max Hinke.  Cook tried to test his players at halftime after both teams were feeling each other out in the first half.

“I thought they responded really well. I just didn’t think we sustained it all that well in the second half,” Cook said.

It wasn’t pretty but Penn State showed some grit in the second half. However, all of that hard work will be overshadowed by the events that transpired in the final minutes of the game.

The call could have gone either way. But that one call shouldn't minimize the fact the Nittany Lions were outplayed for 90 minutes against Rhode Island.

Aidan Torok is a third-year majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email

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Aidan Torok

Sophmore / Broadcast Journalism

Aidan Torok is a sophmore from West Caldwell, New Jersey majoring in broadcast journalism at Penn State. He produces content and does play-by-play announcing and beat writing for the CommRadio sports department. If you’d like to contact him, email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).