Knights stress consistency for improved results
Following head coach Dan Donigan’s best start in charge of the Rutgers men’s soccer team, the Scarlet Knights (2-2) now find themselves right back where they started.
The Knights lost two games in four days at home, falling 1-0 to Syracuse last Thursday before losing 3-1 against Hofstra on Sunday.
The defeat to Syracuse (4-0) was less of a surprise given how dominant the Orange were in the midfield. But falling to Hofstra (1-1-2), a team set up similar to Rutgers' first two opponents, came as a bit of a shock.
After putting together their best first half of the season against the Pride, the Knights followed it up with the worst 45 minutes of soccer they played all season.
Given the contrast in the two halves, Donigan was understandably discontent.
“It just starts with our starting positions, I mean whether it’s our backs just you know they’re picking up loose balls in the midfield and just turning and running at us,” Donigan said postgame. “And I don’t know if it was the energy, or if it was just the mindset but it was a completely different second half than what it was in the first half, and it’s just disappointing for me. Frustrating, but mostly just disappointing.”
Head scratching results have become the norm for Rutgers these past couple of seasons, with consistent play being a constant issue.
Last year, the Knights managed to beat then-ranked Memphis on the road before falling 3-0 at home to Hofstra the following game.
Rutgers appeared more focused on defeating Hofstra this season with revenge on its mind, especially after a disappointing loss to Syracuse.
But the Knights crumbled in the face of adversity after falling behind early in the second half, conceding another two goals before finally responding with a goal of their own.
Despite the talent Rutgers possesses, a lack of composure may have been its undoing.
“I think maybe that could potentially have something to do with it,” Donigan said. “I mean you’d have to ask the players, but look, and I told them that, I said we’re getting some opportunities and we’re playing great, we’re getting chances but we have to capitalize on some of these because this team’s going to stick around.”
The inconsistency these past couple seasons has never been due to a lack of talent. When at its best last year, Rutgers was able to defeat Big Ten regular season champion Penn State, 4-1 and upend Louisville, 1-0, on the road in the AAC tournament.
Even during Rutgers’ NCAA tournament run back in 2011, a majority of the Knights’ key players were part of the team that finished 4-11-1 a year prior, showing the need for consistent play.
With arguably a deeper team than last year, junior forward J.P. Correa, who was a key player for that Sweet 16 team, believes finishing chances are the difference between a win and loss.
“Every goal you don’t score comes back to haunt you. The game [against Hofstra] should have been over in the first half,” Correa said. “We had chance, after chance, after chance and we couldn’t get the ball in the back of the net. ... We just got to keep playing our game and finish our opportunities and things will change.”
The two losses are a slight concern for the Knights, but the injury to junior defender Drew Morgan certainly hasn’t helped their cause.
Rutgers is also still trying to find a consistent balance in attack, with three of the Knights’ most dangerous players new to the squad.
With Big Ten conference play starting this Friday, sophomore midfielder Erik Sa feels the team still has plenty of time to make adjustments.
“We have a long season ahead of us, we’re still going to be positive about [the loss],” Sa said. “But at the same time, we’re definitely going to look at this one and see what we can do better and figure out what happened in the second half and why we folded.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.