Salmon nets two as Rutgers earns first Big East win
The Rutgers men's soccer team headed into this weekend needing a win to stay in postseason contention, but history was against the squad, which had not scored a goal on the road and was winless in the Big East.
The Scarlet Knights rewrote the history books Saturday by throttling the Orange, 3-0, in Syracuse.
"If we lose this game against Syracuse, then they go six points ahead of us and there is basically no catching them," said senior captain Yannick Salmon, who responded with two goals against the Orange.
Salmon upped his team-high goal total to six for the Knights (4-9-1, 1-6), including what proved to be the game-winning tally in the 12th minute on a shot just inside the 18-yard box.
Taking an early lead is something head coach Dan Donigan harped on all season long, but Saturday marked the first time Rutgers tallied a goal in the first 15 minutes of play.
"We really haven't played with a lead all season," said Donigan, who earned his first Big East win at the helm of the Rutgers program. "It was something a little different, especially being on the road in a must-win situation. The guys had the right attitude."
Despite not having much experience playing with a lead, Rutgers stuck together despite a flurry from Syracuse at the end of the first half.
"When we scored first, we really didn't know what to do. We were so surprised," Salmon said. "The first 15 minutes we were playing really well, but the last 15 minutes of the half we really had to hold on. But once we fought through that we were able to move forward to take control of the game."
The Knights doubled their advantage in the 52nd minute, when junior forward Ibrahim Kamara buried a pass from classmate Nate Bourdeau.
Bourdeau, from Baldwinsville, N.Y. — just minutes from Syracuse — notched a pair of assists in his return to upstate New York.
Salmon added the insurance marker in the 72nd minute, when he found himself on the finishing end of a corner kick service from freshman midfielder Brennan McNicoll.
The win serves as a statement to the rest of the Big East that the Knights may be devastated by injuries, but they are not going down without a fight.
"One of the big things is to get your team to fight for you, no matter what the circumstances," Donigan said. "I've said all season long that we can't complain about this team's work ethic and the competitive level that these guys have."
The Knights played with just three substitutes, as injuries have marred the team all season long. But that is not how Rutgers sees it. Instead, it is just another way for the team to prove its resiliency.
"It's just not in our character [to give up]," Salmon said. "Our coaches always talk about how when times are tough, you see people's true character. We just want to show them that we do have a lot of character. We do have a lot of spirit and that even if things aren't going well for us, we are going to work through it."
With the victory over the Orange (2-8-5, 0-4-3), the two teams are deadlocked for the final spot in the Big East Tournament with three points apiece.
Rutgers holds the tiebreaker over Syracuse, and DePaul sits just below the two squads with two points. The Knights host the Blue Demons in the regular season finale on Oct. 30, at Yurcak Field.
Rutgers travels to South Florida before that game for a midweek showdown with USF.
Although the Bulls sit two spots ahead of the Knights in the standings, Rutgers has the confidence going forward that it can score on the road and compete in the Big East.
"We have been unlucky in the past four games, so hopefully [Saturday] night was the breakthrough," Bourdeau said. "We've showed this year that we can play with basically anyone. We're going there to get a result and find ourselves a way into the Big East Tournament."