Tourney berth remains possible for Knights
No matter how down-and-out the Rutgers men's soccer team may feel during its seven-game losing streak, there is still light at the end of the tunnel.
With four conference games left, the Scarlet Knights still have an outside shot at making the Big East Tournament.
But it is time they start helping their own cause.
"We still have a lifeline," said head coach Dan Donigan. "Other teams have been helping us out, but we need to help ourselves. So even though we are upset with where we stand in the conference and with our record, we still have a chance. It's what we're kind of living off of."
The Knights (3-8-1, 0-5) did not make strides Saturday afternoon, when the team came away from a conference matchup at Pittsburgh with a 3-0 loss.
The Panthers (6-5-2, 1-2-2) earned their first Big East win of the season off of goals from two crosses and one penalty kick in the 27th minute.
"We just lost sight of our attacking players and they found a soft spot in the seam and got into the 18 [yard box]," Donigan said. "[Junior Bryant] Knibbs was late on the tackle and took the kid down for the PK that made it 2-0."
A quick look at the Big East Red Division shows Rutgers in the basement, still winless in the conference. But three other teams are winless in the division as well, and they just happen to make up three of the remaining four opponents on the Knights' schedule — St. John's, Syracuse and DePaul.
Although Rutgers is far from the top, it is by no means down for the count.
"Any other year with a record like we have now, we would be far out of the playoffs," said senior captain and leading scorer Yannick Salmon. "But a lot of teams are struggling this year just like we are. Things just aren't going our way, but if we are at home and playing in a big game … that's usually when we are at our best."
One bright spot in recent games has been the play off the bench from freshman forward Todd Webb.
Although he has no goals or starts under his belt, Webb is second on the team in getting shots on goal, with five of his 11 strikes finding the target.
"Todd Webb has been a positive," Donigan said. "He's a young kid who has come into the program and has given us a little bit of a bright spot up top. Ultimately, again, you need more than just one guy to create and get things done for you.
"[Our lineup] is what we have. That's who we are."
And as tough as it may be for a freshman to grasp how lucky Rutgers is for still being in the postseason hunt, the team's captains are making no mistake about getting that point across.
"It's easy for a freshman to just give up and say, ‘Oh well, I have three years left,'" Salmon said. "You've just got to remind them that time flies by in college. You might think you have three years left, but eventually you are going to be a senior like me."
And that message trickled down to both sides of the ball.
"We're just telling the young guys to stay locked in," said senior captain and defenseman Paulie Calafiore. "They just have to keep their focus and help the team out as best as they can."
First on the docket for the Knights is St. John's Wednesday night at Yurcak Field.
St. John's presents a perfect opportunity for the Knights to bounce back — a home game against a rival.
"I haven't beaten St. John's since I've been in college," Salmon said. "I was recruited there and I turned them down to come [to Rutgers]. I'm from New York too, so it's a big thing for me to come out hard on Wednesday and get a win."
The Red Storm, picked to finish first in the Red Division, have not seen their season go according to plan and have not won since a Sept. 28 victory at Yale.
But to say that the Johnnies (6-5-2, 0-3-2) have a lack of momentum heading into the midweek showdown is a terrible mistake.
St. John's shut down the nation's top-ranked offense in No. 5 Connecticut on Sunday night to the tune of a 0-0 draw.
"They tied [UConn] 0-0 at their place. So I'm sure that they're using that and it's motivating them," Donigan said. "They are fighting for a postseason spot as well.
"It's a great rivalry — St. John's and Rutgers. My guess is that it's going to be one hell of a competitive game. Hopefully, we can do something to help ourselves and not rely on other teams."