Knights end season on tear after?OT?loss at Maryland
The Rutgers men’s soccer team walked off of Ludwig Field on the Maryland campus nearly a month ago following arguably its most bitter defeat of the season.
The Scarlet Knights went above and beyond their expectations during the matchup, forcing the No. 2 team in the nation into overtime despite playing a man down following a red card. But a single goal early in overtime ended the Knights’ hopes of an upset.
Head coach Dan Donigan noted after the game that the team, despite the loss, could go into the rest of the season with a swagger because of its performance.
Little did he know how far the swagger would take it.
Fast forward to today, when the Knights (9-5-3, 6-1-2) enter postseason play unbeaten since the Maryland matchup. They also have the benefit of the program’s first Big East Tournament first-round bye since 1999.
In Donigan and the Knights’ minds, it all started in Maryland.
“No doubt about it in my mind, absolutely that Maryland game was a signature game for us,” Donigan said. “Certainly that was a signature statement point in our season that kind of told our guys that they can play and they can compete as long as the stay focused.”
Donigan noted the biggest confidence boost the Knights received all season did not even come with a victory — it was the fact that they scratched and clawed against the second-ranked team in the country despite having the odds heavily stacked against them.
It is that determination that highlighted the latter half of the Knights’ season, according to Donigan.
“Even though we did not get the win or the result, once [junior midfielder] Robin [Brown] got that card we ended up playing down for about 20 minutes into the overtime. That shows a lot,” Donigan said. “If they play hard and play with their emotion and energy, but also play with their intelligence, they can do anything. If you can get that combination, you can be very competitive, and that is what this group has been able to do ever since.”
Looking back, the players acknowledge the Maryland matchup as the biggest shift in their season. When Maryland midfielder John Stertzer found the back of the net for the win, it was personal for each and every member of the Knights.
“I thought we were going to get at least a tie that game. After we got the red card in the second half we just kept pushing and pushing,” said senior forward Ibrahim Kamara. “We were unfortunate going into overtime with the red card and were all very disappointed with the loss, but it made us keep pushing to do whatever it takes to win all our other games.”
Win they did.
The Knights charged out of the gate following Maryland with four victories in a row en route to a 5-0-2 undefeated streak to end the season. Three of the games were shutouts for goalkeeper Kevin McMullen, a feat the junior did not accomplish prior to Maryland.
Three more results came against nationally-ranked opponents. The Knights were 0-2 against ranked opponents before the Maryland game and did not register a single goal against either team.
The revamped and revitalized Rutgers team is a stark contrast to the Knights squad of last year, which notched only one win in its final 11 games.
“It is really hard to sum things up in terms of how far the program has come in a year,” Donigan said. “I’m very happy with the progress we have been able to make. I think anyone in their right mind would be able to see the progress and the positive things that have happened with our program.”