Emotions high entering road match at 'Nova
When the Rutgers men's soccer team takes the field today in Philadelphia against Villanova, there will be no love lost between the two squads.
It was only one year ago when the Wildcats traveled to Piscataway and reeled off a 3-0 romp over the Scarlet Knights. And it will be a lifetime before anybody forgets.
"We owe them a beating because they beat us, 3-0, on our home field last year, so it's time to get them back," said junior captain Andrew Cuevas. "We are confident. I think we are going to come out strong against Villanova because it's kind of a rivalry. We went to school with a lot of those guys, so it's going to be a war."
Although both sides took 12 shots in the Oct. 28 meeting last year, the Wildcats made the most of their chances, burying three shots, including a penalty kick in the 83rd minute that served as the nail in the coffin.
The history between players on both sides only makes the rivalry's roots grow deeper. Add last year's game to the mix with the fact the Knights are still searching for their first Big East victory and the Villanova Soccer Complex just might break out into an all-out battlefield.
"Oh, I can't wait," said senior captain Yannick Salmon. "My best friend, Kevin Garcia, is the captain of Villanova, so I can't wait to play him. It's going to be good."
Garcia and Dylan Renna pace the Wildcats (6-4-2, 2-0-1) with three goals apiece, but Salmon is no slouch either.
The Westbury, N.Y., native leads the Knights (3-6-1, 0-3) with four goals, the most recent of which came Saturday in a 2-1 loss to No. 6 Louisville.
Rutgers gave the ranked Cardinals all they could handle but came up short, suffering its fifth straight loss. Head coach Dan Donigan believes that the strong showing against the Cards goes a long way heading into six Big East games to close out the season.
"I've got to believe Louisville is looking at our record and possibly thinking, ‘OK, maybe this is not as talented of a team,' but quite honestly I think they left this place grateful that they came away with a positive result," Donigan said.
The Knights battled Louisville in a relatively even game. The shot mark favored the Cards by a 13-8 margin, but both squads managed only two shots on net, with Rutgers earning one more corner kick (6) and committing one more foul (14).
"I'd like to think that we are going to be a team that nobody really wants to play come tournament time," Donigan said. "For me, the reward now is getting into this postseason tournament. I'm not saying we are going to run the table, but we are going to be a tough team."
Although it lost, Rutgers took a top-10 team to the wire for 90 minutes — a step up from other performances last week, when the team fell to squads like NJIT and Temple.
"When we show up and we are committed … we're pretty all right. We are OK," Donigan said. "It's the games where we don't make good decisions and we don't commit ourselves for 90 minutes — that's when I don't think we are a very good team."
Working hard and imposing their will for a full 90 minutes is a necessity echoed by Donigan's players. When the Knights put together a full-game performance, look out.
"From the beginning of the season, we knew we could play with any team," Salmon said. "It was just a matter of how hard we worked. [Against Louisville] we worked pretty hard. I'd say everyone on the field worked hard. If we work that hard in every game from now on, yeah, I think we'll be fine."