Free kick goal keeps RU winless in Big East
In a game between two struggling offenses, the Rutgers men's soccer team knew its Big East game Wednesday against St. John's could come down to just one play.
Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, the Red Storm made the most of a singular play — a free kick in the 67th minute on a questionable call — to send Rutgers to its eighth-straight loss in a 1-0 decision.
"I'm very upset with the call. I know I'm going to sound like a poor loser, but I'm very upset," said head coach Dan Donigan. "[St. John's] gave us everything we could handle tonight, but to lose it in that fashion is very difficult to swallow."
The Red Storm (7-5-2, 1-3-2) tallied the only goal of the game when Pablo Battuto Punyed nailed the free kick from 22 yards out. The junior from Miami struck the ball with his left foot and sent it far post, bending past the outstretched hand of junior goalkeeper Adam Klink.
"Punyed is a great player," Donigan said. "It was a great restart and a great goal — take nothing away from that. I wish we had an opportunity like that that would have gone for us."
The last time the Knights (3-9-1, 0-6-0) lost eight in a row was in 1972, when the team opened the season with nine straight losses under then-coach J. William Maytas.
The Knights' starting lineup — including freshman midfielder Brennan McNicoll, who played with a cast on his right wrist — knew it had a long night forthcoming with injuries depleting the roster. Freshman Todd Webb served as the only player at 100 percent on the Rutgers bench.
In total, nine players stayed on the field the entire 90 minutes, and in the end they could not muster enough for an equalizer.
"The guys that are on the field just need to step it up," said senior captain Yannick Salmon. "We are obviously fatigued, but we just got to fight through it."
Junior Nye Winslow was available, but Donigan wanted to limit the minutes that the Piscataway native saw. However, when junior captain Andrew Cuevas suffered a bloody nose with time waning in the first half and needed to head off the field, Donigan's hand was forced.
Winslow came on for five minutes and saw several touches on the ball while trainers attended to Cuevas' injury and got him a clean jersey.
"It's us always trying to have at least one guy on the side to go in, in case somebody goes down," said Donigan of Winslow's playing time. "[Without Winslow], if somebody goes down, then you don't have anyone to throw in."
Goals were at a premium for both squads heading into Wednesday's match, with the Red Storm scoreless in their past four games and the Knights only putting one ball into the back of the net in their previous seven contests.
Rutgers now only owns nine goals in 13 games and has not scored in three matches.
But whether the team has nine goals or 90, the only number that matters is the glaring zero, as in the number of conference wins this year.
"I don't think anybody expected it to be this tough," Salmon said about the team's search for a Big East win. "We knew there was going to be an adjusting period with the new coaching staff, but I think we all came into this season expecting a lot more wins."
The best chance for the Knights all game long came just two minutes into the contest when junior Bryant Knibbs' turnaround shot from 25 yards out beat St. John's goalkeeper Rafael Diaz.
But the shot could not beat the crossbar as it rattled off the woodwork and out of harms way.
"We are just struggling to find the back of the net," Knibbs said. "Hitting the crossbar even makes it that much worse because it's so close."
The two teams combined for just two shots on net in the first stanza, with both goalkeepers recording one save apiece.
Knibbs found the post again in the second half, when McNicoll worked space inside the 18-yard box and found the Pine Bush, N.Y., native open. Knibbs let off a rocket, but once again it glanced off the crossbar and out of play.
In the end it was the same old story for Rutgers — hard work yielding no results.
"We knew it was going to be tough. We just didn't think we'd struggle this bad," Knibbs said. "We're putting up good efforts. We just have to find results now."