Knights enter first road contest in Big Ten
Last year, a soccer program getting a result on a trip to Madison, Wisconsin, was mission impossible with the Badgers going 10-0-0 at home.
But with the loss of last season’s Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Tomislav Zadro, to graduation and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, A.J. Cochran, to a Generation Adidas contract in Major League Soccer, Wisconsin (1-3) is looking vulnerable. Approaching the weekend, the Badgers have dropped two in a row.
The Rutgers men’s soccer team also enters its first Big Ten game tonight on back-to-back losses and is looking to build on a promising first half against Hofstra last Sunday.
With both teams struggling, something has to give.
For Rutgers head coach Dan Donigan, it comes down to which team wants it more.
“You know, I think some of the games we’ve lost, whether it’s this year or in the past that, that was it —we were just physically knocked off of balls and physically run off the field,” Donigan said. “And if we can bring [physicality] into this conference, which is kind of what it’s known for, it will allow us to be competitive.”
Being physical and having the desire to win is only part of what Rutgers (2-2) needs to achieve in order to earn a positive result in its first road game of the season.
Against Hofsta, the Scarlet Knights started the first half with loads of energy and intent, hoping to avenge the memories from last season’s 3-0 home defeat to the Bison.
But an early-conceded goal in the second half saw Rutgers crumble in the face of adversity and switch off.
If the Knights are to get a result versus the Badgers, they will not only need to bring energy, physicality and desire, but also manage to maintain for 90 minutes.
“[Staying consistent] is really a lot of the mental aspect of the game,” said senior midfielder Nathan Bruccoleri. “Even when Hofstra scored their first goal on us, I feel like our team got down, and our mentality switched. That’s something that we need to work on.”
To work on consistency, the Knights’ practices this week have focused on a lot of short-sided games putting an emphasis on team pressing.
Being at home, Wisconsin is likely to try to control possession.
If Rutgers can successfully press throughout the match from its forwards to its defenders, the Badgers will have a more difficult time controlling the tempo.
The pressing could also force Wisconsin to make dangerous mistakes in its side of the field, with a majority of the Badgers’ starting lineup composed of freshmen and underclassmen.
“Really, we’ve had the same type of mentality going into away games all four years since I’ve been here,” Bruccoleri said. “I think, if anything, [road games are] more exciting because we’re together as a team. We’re traveling, and it’s exciting — especially going to a Big Ten school.”
Not only will this game be the first televised match on the Big Ten Network for soccer this season, but it will also feature two of the conference’s best young attacking talents.
Rutgers forward Jason Wright and Wisconsin forward Mark Segbers are tied atop the conference in goals scored by freshmen, with three each in four games.
Though containing the likes of Segbers and midfielder Drew Conner will be challenging, especially given Rutgers’ current form defensively, sophomore goalkeeper David Greczek has all the confidence that his squad can get the job done.
“We just have to come out big and strong and fast and hungry to win,” Greczek said. “You know, we need that desire and that passion we all [have playing] soccer [to] just come out and win the game.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.