Rutgers continues season with upset over top seed in conference tournament
The Rutgers men’s soccer team declared the AAC tournament a new season last week, and perhaps a clean slate was in fact all the Scarlet Knights needed.
Following a nightmarish second half of the regular season, Rutgers (7-10-2, 2-5-1) won consecutive games for the first time since Sept. 15 in Louisville, Ky. this weekend to advance to the conference semifinals Friday in Dallas.
The eighth-seeded Knights knocked off top-seeded Louisville, 1-0, Saturday in the quarterfinals behind sophomore midfielder Mael Corboz’s goal in the 86th minute.
Corboz’s sixth goal of the year came off assists from senior forward Kene Eze and freshman midfielder Erik Sa.
The Cardinals (11-4-3, 5-1-2), then-ranked No. 7 nationally, relentlessly pushed until the end but found no equalizer.
Eze received a yellow card with 18 seconds left, and forward Ricardo Velazco kicked his game-high fourth shot on goal into the waiting arms of freshman goalkeeper David Greczek as time expired.
Greczek, who accumulated nine saves, withstood all Louisville threw at him to preserve the upset. The Cardinals more than doubled the Knights’ shot output in the second half, 11-5.
Rutgers even committed 14 fouls and two yellow cards, but its backline held on long enough to set up Corboz’s game-winning goal.
Physical defensive play proved most dangerous for the Knights late in the first half.
On a foul inside the box in the 41st minute, Velazco earned a penalty kick that Greczek saved. One of Rutgers’ Achilles’ heels — conceding goals late in opening halves — was remedied.
But the Knights’ appearance alone in the quarterfinals was hardly a formality.
Rutgers first had to win Friday against nine-seed Cincinnati (6-12-1, 1-7) in Louisville. Even as the favorite, the Knights had not won since Oct. 5, scoring just two goals in six subsequent winless games.
But facing potentially his last-career game, Eze willed the Knights past the first round with a historic performance.
The senior scored a career-high eight points on four second-half goals to spark a 5-1 romp — Rutgers’ highest-scoring team output since 2006.
Eze easily penetrated Cincinnati’s fading backline down the stretch. The Sayreville, N.J., native’s last three goals came within less than 13 minutes of each other.
Sophomore Drew Morgan chipped in with his first-career goal on a header in the 63rd minute to give Rutgers the 2-1 lead for good.
Five unanswered strikes came after the Bearcats took a 1-0 lead in the 47th minute. Eze provided the equalizer less than two minutes later inside the right post 10 yards out. He now leads the Knights with eight goals and 20 points this season.
Rutgers will face fifth-seeded South Florida (7-3-8, 3-2-4), which the Knights tied in double overtime Oct. 19, Friday in the semifinals.
Two more wins would earn Rutgers, whose postseason prospects were faint less than a week ago, an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.