Junior drives Knights offense near NY home
The Rutgers men's soccer team's 3-0 win at Syracuse on Saturday was a huge step forward for a squad struggling to make the Big East Tournament.
But for Nate Bourdeau, the win at SU Soccer Stadium was much more than that — it was an opportunity to show his growth as a collegiate soccer player in front of those who saw those skills flourish for the first time.
"I had a lot of family members there and a lot of support," said Bourdeau, who grew up right outside the campus of Syracuse in Baldwinsville, N.Y. "It was great to be able to go home and play in front of friends and family and people I grew up with."
And with family, friends and former coaches looking on, the junior midfielder did not disappoint.
Bourdeau notched two assists, including a pass to Yannick Salmon for what proved to be the game-winning goal in the 12th minute. The C.W. Baker High School product also found forward Ibrahim Kamara in the 52nd minute to end the Scarlet Knights' eight-game losing streak.
"I thought I'd be more nervous because playing in front of fans there is a lot of added pressure, but once we got out there it got my adrenaline going and got me more excited," said Bourdeau, the Central New York Player of the Year in 2007. "I was playing in front of people who knew me personally, and it just made for a better atmosphere."
Salmon, a senior captain, liked what he saw out of Bourdeau in a more outside role.
"We usually play him in an attacking midfield, but this game we started him out wide and he gave us another dimension," Salmon said. "Whether it was running at players or beating players down the line, it was something that the coaches have been asking from us all season. Nate did that.
"It was great to see him finally do what I know he can, especially in his homecoming. I've known him for a while and I know how good he is, so it was just good for him to finally be able to show what he can do."
Bourdeau also pleased head coach Dan Donigan with his performance, a tribute to how hard he has worked since beginning the year as a substitute.
"He played a great first 15 minutes and helped us get on the board right away," Donigan said. "I think he was a little more motivated to go back home and play in front of his home crowd. We even joked with him that he should have played at Syracuse, seeing as he played so well there."
After spending his freshman season at Boston College, Bourdeau transferred to the Banks and chipped in two goals last season but did not earn any starts this year until injuries plagued the Knights.
"Earlier in the year, I felt like I was in a slump," said Bourdeau, who admitted that he is also not 100 percent healthy with a nagging leg problem. "It was more of a mental thing, I think. It's harder to prepare for a game when coming off the bench. When you are starting, it gives you more confidence.
"[Saturday] was the first time that I really felt my explosion come back. It was my best game of the year all around, and that's how I want to continue to play for the rest of the year."
Bourdeau and the rest of the Rutgers squad (4-9-1, 1-6) travel to South Florida today to take on the Bulls (8-3-4, 3-2-2), who sit two spots ahead of the Knights in the Red Division and have already clinched a Big East Tournament berth.
Although there are no Tampa natives on the Rutgers roster, the team now has the confidence to take on a Big East team on the road and come away with a positive result.
"We just need to come out with the same attitude," Salmon said. "We're not thinking that USF is a game that we can afford to lose. We came out [against Syracuse] with the attitude that this was a must-win game, and we played like it. If we go down to USF with that attitude, then we have a really good chance of beating them."