Donigan era set to kick off with new style
For the first time since 1980, the Rutgers soccer team kicks off a season without Bob Reasso roaming the sidelines as head coach. Athletic director Tim Pernetti brought in Hamilton, N.J., native Dan Donigan and a new era in Scarlet Knights soccer commences tonight with the first game of the season at Lehigh.
According to the new coach, the transition has been flawless.
"Anytime you get a new coaching staff, you are always going to bring different philosophies and everything else," he said. "I've been very pleased with [the players'] mentality, their attitude, and their willingness to listen. We want to be a tactical team, a technical team and a tough team. Some of the things may be the same as in the past, but I think most of the things are going to be a lot different."
Donigan comes to the Banks after spending nine seasons at the helm of the Saint Louis program, guiding the Billikens to seven NCAA tournament appearances. The Knights have not made the tournament since 2006.
With Donigan comes a new style of soccer: A possession-based attack that showcases the offense as opposed to the more defensive-minded strategy implimented by Reasso.
The forwards on this team are chomping at the bit.
"I thought it was going to be a difficult transition, but this new coach has been a heaven send for me," said junior forward Sam Archer. "He's brought the best out of my game. He understands that I'm more of an offensive player, whereas the old coach wanted me to do more defensively. [Donigan] lets me be more free."
Inheriting a team that failed to score a goal in nine games last season, Donigan does not want to dwell on the past. He knows the challenges that come with playing a Big East schedule, having played for Connecticut himself.
But these are challenges that Donigan welcomes. In fact, they're the reason he took the job.
"I came back here to build a nationally prominent program and win a national championship, while being part of one of the best conferences in America," Donigan said. "As a player, I played in it up at UConn, so I missed those competitions. I missed day-in-and-day-out preparing for big-time games. You go down the list of these teams, top to bottom, every game is going to be a war. It's going to be a battle."
When defending the ball, Rutgers will pull back and play a 4-5-1 setup, Donigan said. However, when the Knights have possession, the new system allows for the outside midfielders to flank wide and push forward. The formation looks like a 4-3-3.
"To help benefit the kids, if you have some consistency in the way you're playing and the roles of responsibility … the better off they are going to be. At the same time, as a staff, we like to change things up. We like versatility out of our players. That keeps the opponent screwed up," Donigan said.
The key to this formation working is possession, something that has been harped on more this year than in prior seasons, said Second Team All-Big East honoree Yannick Salmon.
"I think now we are playing a lot more possession and keeping the ball as opposed to the past couple of years with the old coaching staff, when we were a big defensive team," he said.
Salmon and Archer are just two of the 16 midfielders or forwards listed on the roster. Donigan believes that the team possesses as many as seven players that can see time in the attacking third.
Since all seven cannot see the field at one time, a system needs to be devised in which the best players are out at all times.
"We've got a lot of guys that are weapons and can score goals," Donigan said. "They have to accept that we have seven guys that we are going to have to find some sort of rotation for them. If one guy establishes himself ahead of the rest, then he is going to stay on the field until we see a reason to pull him off."
And according to Salmon, there's one thing required to be part of the rotation.
"[Donigan] is very big on technical work," Salmon said. "If you don't have the technical quality, then you are not going to play in the game."
The solution is simple: Play within the system and you will see the field and plenty of scoring chances, something that is very different than years past.