July 15, 2019 | 73° F

Ranked opponents pay visit to Yurcak

Photo by Jared Miller |

Senior midfielder Bryant Knibbs is one of seven Knights players to score a goal this season. The Pine Bush, N.Y., native and the rest of the team’s attack play host to two ranked opponents this weekend, both of which allow 1.25 goals or fewer per game.

The Rutgers men’s soccer team finds itself at the biggest bump in the road before Big East play this weekend, when it comes face-to-face with Iona and Indiana in a two-day span for the Rutgers/St. John’s Nike Soccer Classic.

Not only are Iona and Indiana nationally ranked, but both roll into Piscataway sporting undefeated records.

“Well, both teams are ranked, so they’re pretty big games for us,” said senior Bryant Knibbs. “Getting good results in both of them would be really good for us going forward as a team, so we just have to go out and play our game — get the results we need.”

First up for the Scarlet Knights is No. 25 Iona (4-0), which comes off a 4-3 overtime win against Mount Saint Mary’s in the Puma Lafayette Classic.

The Gales won the tournament’s championship with the victory.

“I went and watched [Iona] play La Salle, which is obviously a common opponent for us. And you know Iona is good,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “They are very talented going forward, and they are pretty organized and structured defensively. It is just going to be a very difficult team — it’s a very good opponent. Just like most games we have this year, we are going to have our hands full and we have to come to play every match.”

Donigan believes Iona presents difficulties the Knights (3-1) have not seen this season from any team they faced.

“Against Drexel, I thought they were a good team. But at the same time, I thought that was a game we needed to win and we should have won, and fortunately we did,” Donigan said. “I think Iona poses some different problems. They have very good speed up top at attack, some very crafty players on the ball and they got some big strong kids in the back. They present a very formidable opponent.”

Only days after facing Iona, the Knights have to regroup and clash with No. 9 Indiana (4-0-1) at Yurcak Field. The Hoosiers arrive on the Banks amid their best start since the 2005 season, in which they also started 4-0-1.

“We are going to have to turn around on Sunday and play what I consider to be one of the top programs in the country in Indiana,” Donigan said. “This is going to be a very tough weekend for us, but that’s what we want. It’s what the players want to be a part of, and it’s going to help us prepare for the Big East matchups coming up.”

Despite the added pressure of facing such highly regarded teams, the Knights do not feel unprepared for the challenges. They come off an impressive 3-1 win at home against Drexel, which featured three different Knights finding the back of the net.

“There is always a little bit more pressure playing against ranked teams because you want to get the winning result because it looks so good for the program,” Knibbs said. “But we are taking this mostly as just another bunch of teams. We are going to go in how we want to go in, and control the games how we want them to be played.”

By Vinnie Mancuso

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