Identity in balance during extended time off
The first game of the season can tell you a lot about what type of team you are and it goes a long way toward developing an identity.
The Rutgers men's soccer team hopes this adage is not the case.
In their first game of the season, the Scarlet Knights traveled to Lehigh and were beaten in every facet of the game to the tune of a 3-0 defeat.
"It was very quiet, almost like somebody had died," said senior defender Paulie Calafiore of the bus ride home from Bethlehem, Pa. "I think everyone was too busy thinking about what went wrong and what we can do to get better and make sure we can fix everything before our next game."
Although it was not the way that new head coach Dan Donigan wanted to kick off his career on the Banks, he believes his team showed glimpses of promise.
"I think we let an opportunity go by the wayside. We've only played a good 15, 20 minutes. There were some spurts in the game where I thought we did some good things," the first-year Rutgers coach said. "Good teams, on the road, you got to perform better than just a few spurts outside of the first 15 minutes.
"For me, I just think there needs to be an ego, a mentality, a psyche that you are going to battle, you are going to fight, and you are going to do whatever it takes to be competitive and come away with a positive result."
Defensively, the Knights conceded three goals on just seven shots. On the offensive side of the ball, the team managed some early chances, twice hitting the post, but in the end sputtered and only managed three shots on net.
"I don't think our frontrunners did anything to give us an advantage throughout the game. And I think our midfielders were just kind of running around with their heads cut off and not thinking about what we were trying to do," Donigan said. "It's not going to get any easier for us. We are going to have teams coming in here that would love nothing more than to beat Rutgers at Rutgers."
For Donigan, the philosophies are going to stay the same from the loss to Lehigh as the team begins a five-game homestand starting Friday. It is the execution that has to improve.
"I think sometimes things just click and the light bulb goes on," Donigan said. "We are going to continue to stick to our philosophies and play the way we want to play because we are building for this season, but we are also building for the future.
"I am very set in my ways in what is going to bring us success down the road and I'm not going to vary from that. We are going to keep pressing and pushing the same issues and hopefully things will start to turn more positive for us."
Due to the holiday weekend, the Knights had a nine-day break between Lehigh and their home opener against Delaware. After two days off, the team hit the practice field hard with the next game seeming ages away.
"The nine days has been grueling. We had two days off, but we've been going hard since then," Calafiore said. "We definitely want to get right back out there after a loss like that. We want to be playing. Practicing just gets you thinking and realizing more that we lost and you got to be working harder to win."
During practice, the offense worked on their crosses — both the delivery and making sure there are players inside the 18-yard box to receive it.
"We pretty much have just run drills nonstop to get our attacking players going," said junior Yannick Salmon, who registered one of the Knights' shots on goal in the loss. "We've just been running a lot of offensive plays and working on getting more people in the box.
"I think our problem last game was that we were having trouble holding the ball. Also getting numbers in the box for crosses and we weren't getting more supporting players up top."
Salmon is also itching to get back on the playing field. The extra practices have only extended the sinking feeling of defeat, not allowing Salmon and his teammates to forget about the loss just yet.
"I definitely don't like having all that time off," he said. "Especially after a bad loss like that you just want to go right into the next game and forget about the last one. Having all of that time off also meant a lot of fitness in practice and stuff like that."
But it is during these demanding practices, under the blazing sun that reveals what teams are made of far more than an early loss. It is through adverse times like these that you can carve your own identity.
"We can either dwell on the loss, or get angry and motivated to practice better and make sure every thing is perfect," Calafiore said. "Basically, the whole mindset in practice and what I've been trying to tell the guys is that it's not easy to win. It's not easy to dig deep.
"It's not easy to find the inner self that tells you to keep pushing and keep driving when your mind and your body is telling you to quit. I said that if we want to win and we want to be champions, then that is what we have to do."