RU fails to qualify for NCAAs
It was supposed to be the year the Rutgers men’s soccer team made a triumphant return to the NCAA Tournament. It was supposed to be a redemption season for two key Scarlet Knights who sat out most of 2012 with hip injuries.
Instead Rutgers endured another transition season following a detrimental midseason hamstring injury to senior forward Kene Eze.
After a promising 3-2-1 start, the eight-game injury to the Knights’ star striker and co-leading scorer thrust Rutgers into a downward spiral it struggled mightily to stop.
The rest of the Knights’ youthful core failed to create separation in the midfield and generate consistent scoring without Eze’s speed stretching the field. In that eight-game stretch, Rutgers dropped six and scored a total of merely three goals.
Sophomore midfielder Mael Corboz, The Daily Targum’s Rookie of the Year last season and an integral piece of the program’s future, could not score during that drought as defenses zoned in on him. Corboz had five goals in the first six games.
Sophomore forward J.P. Correa and senior defender Joe Setchell were also never fully themselves coming off hip surgeries which put them through rehab most of the offseason.
Correa, despite starting every game, tallied only three points after leading the team in scoring in 2011. His lone goal came during Nov. 2’s regular season finale at Central Florida.
Setchell, meanwhile, dealt with nagging lower body issues and missed three games.
By the time Eze returned Oct. 19 against South Florida, he was so rusty and Rutgers was so out of sorts in his absence that it took a few games for the Knights to right the ship.
Despite backing into the nine-team AAC Tournament as the eighth seed, Rutgers showed pride with everything on the line. It snapped a six-game losing skid in the first round Nov. 8 against Cincinnati as Eze scored a career-high four goals in the second half.
The next night, the Knights knocked off top-seeded Louisville on a goal from Corboz in the 86th minute.
Rutgers’ run came to an end Nov. 15 against eventual conference champions South Florida in the semifinals. Even so, the Knights gained valuable postseason experience to build on as its youth presents promise moving forward.