July 20, 2018 | ° F

Confident 'D' leads Rutgers into weekend

Photo by Eric Schkrutz |

Senior defender Chris Edwards is tied with classmate Yannick Salmon with 48 games started. Edwards is part of an experienced defensive corps that shut out St. Peter's.

It was a day of firsts for the Rutgers soccer team last Sunday against St. Peter's.

Not only was the victory the first of the year for the Scarlet Knights, it also marked the first time in the 2010 season that they held an opponent scoreless, winning 2-0.

For a team that only shut out four teams last year — while being held scoreless nine times itself — keeping a clean sheet is of the utmost importance.

"Going into every game, that's our goal. We want to keep a clean sheet," said senior captain and outside defender Paulie Calafiore. "Keeping a clean sheet is an accomplishment for us, but it also sends a message to the other teams that we are about to play that when they come to play us, it's not going to be easy to score."

The back line for Rutgers boasts four defenders who all played at least one season.

Even with injuries sidelining him for most of 2009, Calafiore still has 21 starts under his belt. Fellow captain Andrew Cuevas has 17 starts to his name — four of which came as a freshman at Iona.

Joining Cuevas on the right side of the defense is senior Chris Edwards. Edwards was a pillar of the squad since arriving on the Banks, amassing 48 starts to date.

And finally there is junior Bryant Knibbs, who played as a midfielder last season, but started in the backline twice as a freshman.

Knibbs was proud of his team's performance Sunday, despite harsh weather conditions.

"Sunday was probably one of the worst games we have played in condition-wise, so it was definitely a struggle out there to keep the shutout," he said. "All of our guys did a great job and we really pride ourselves in keeping the ball out of the net."

It was a performance that impressed first-year head coach Dan Donigan, but there is still room for improvement.

"I think that we still gave up some chances to St. Peter's that we didn't want to," he said. "I felt we gave them too many opportunities to get back into the game. But overall, we are still pleased to have kept them scoreless."

Rutgers' next opportunity to hold an opponent scoreless comes tonight against Long Island at Yurcak Field. The Knights (1-1-1) find themselves in the midst of a five-game homestand that started last week and concludes next Friday with the Big East opener against Marquette.

Long Island (2-2) provides a great opportunity for Rutgers to go over .500, with the Blackbirds only recording their wins at home against Cornell and NJIT in overtime.

After Friday's contest, the Knights return to the pitch Sunday afternoon for a 2:30 p.m. affair with Hartford.

Wins over the Hawks (2-2) and LIU would allow Rutgers to head into Big East play riding a three-game win streak.

The defense's play over the weekend is paramount to building confidence heading into the conference schedule. And as one of the most experienced groups on the squad, communication comes as second nature.

"We feed off each other very well," Calafiore said. "The communication is there all the time. A lot of the times we don't even need to communicate because we read each other so well."

Just like the shutout on Sunday, Donigan likes his defenders' comfort with one another, but there is always room to improve.

"I think they are all comfortable with one another," he said. "They have all played in some big matches, but as we start to enter the conference schedule, I still want to see them improve and limit the amount of chances the opposing team gets." 

And with that comfort, there is no harm in any of the defenders raising their voices to make sure everyone is on the same page.

"We know where the others are going to be at all times," Calafiore said. "We're not afraid to talk to each other — yell at each other — to make sure we are on the same page. There's no hard feeling taken between what's said as long as the job gets done."

A.J. Jankowski

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