Momentum comes at perfect time for Knights
Through five games of the Rutgers men's soccer season, it is safe to say the team experienced an emotional roller coaster that borderlines reality television.
After playing through the lowest of lows — a season opening 3-0 shellacking at the hands of Lehigh — the Scarlet Knights find themselves on the upswing, riding a three-game win streak into Friday's Big East opener with Marquette.
"We are flying high right now," said junior Bryant Knibbs, who netted the game winner in Sunday's 2-1 overtime victory over Hartford. "It's a huge momentum builder. We wanted to head into the Big East on a winning streak. We have won three straight now, so I think we are ready to head into the Big East."
The most recent victory over the Hawks serves as a microcosm of how the season played out thus far. The Knights (3-1-1) admittedly looked sloppy in the first half, but pulled it together in the end to come out on top.
And while he was not pleased with the overall performance, head coach Dan Donigan knows that sloppiness can be changed, while losses cannot.
"It was a very rewarding, satisfying result, but we are not happy with that first half and the majority of the game," Donigan said. "I'm not going to say that all the time, but I'm going to say that when I feel it's necessary."
The Knights committed 17 fouls against the Hawks, including two yellow cards.
"I was disappointed with some of our tackles. I thought they were sloppy and reckless and we're a better team than that. That's why I adjusted at halftime," Donigan said. "Again these guys found another way to grind out another win, so I'm proud of that. They need to let the ball do the work and not try to do it themselves all the time."
Rutgers dug itself into a hole early against Hartford — like it did in the loss to Lehigh — and headed into halftime down 1-0. But the momentum turned in favor of the Knights when junior forward Sam Archer scored early in the second half to pull even.
"[The win] is huge. Words can't describe it," Archer said. "It's a huge win for us going into the Big East. Momentum is important because the Big East is a whole different challenge. We've got to win these games."
It is tough to pinpoint the sole cause for the Knights' surge.
One reason is that Rutgers played every game since the Lehigh debacle within the confines of Yurcak Field.
Another could be the quality of opponents faced, with wins over Hartford, Long Island and St. Peter's and a tie with Delaware.
But perhaps the best explanation comes in the form of goalkeeper Adam Klink. After starting Southern Methodist transfer Kevin McMullen for the games against Lehigh and Delaware, Donigan switched netminders in favor of Klink.
The junior from Chesapeake, Va., responded to the challenge.
Through three games, Klink boasts a 0.32 goals against average and a 0.909 save percentage to go along with three victories.
At the moment, he is Donigan's man between the pipes.
"Absolutely, there is no need to make a change," Donigan said. "To me, he exudes confidence from the players and the coaching staff. Right now there is no need to change things."
But the improvements from Lehigh reach far longer on the pitch than just in net.
From defenders to the attacking third, the Knights are starting to play more comfortably in the possession-based system implemented by Donigan.
And it could not have come at a better time with Big East play right around the corner.
"It gives you confidence heading into the next games," said senior defender Chris Edwards of the team's recent wins. "It gives you what you need going into the Big East games to give you the confidence that you are going to win."