Rutgers hopes road game sparks wins
Normally in soccer, having home-field advantage tends to give teams a slight edge over their opponent.
But leaving the not-so-comfy confines of Yurcak Field could be just what the Rutgers men’s soccer team (3-4, 1-1) needs to get back to winning ways.
Entering Sunday’s road contest against No. 16 Michigan State, the Scarlet Knights have lost four of their last five games, all of which occurred at home.
“I’d rather reverse our schedule this year and have 12 games on the road and five at home, the way it’s going,” head coach Dan Donigan said jokingly. “But no, you know, look, you just don’t let that play on your psyche, but yeah, we feel we can play and compete, whether we’re at home or on the road. But unfortunately, our record indicates, so far, we’re a better road team than we are home team.”
The Knights’ biggest win of the season came on the road Sept. 12 against Wisconsin in a thrilling 3-2 overtime game which saw junior forward J.P. Correa net two goals.
Rutgers also won its only other road game of the season in an exhibition game against then-No. 9 Virginia, 2-1.
But Michigan State (5-1-1) presents a much different challenge. The Spartans are off to a strong start to the year after returning eight starters from last season’s 14-win team, which advanced all the way to the Elite Eight before losing to the eventual National Champions, Notre Dame.
Entering the matchup on a three-game winning streak, Rutgers knows it will be yet another grinding conference game.
“I’m expecting a really good team,” said sophomore midfielder Erik Sa. “I actually watched them against Maryland. They had a big win at Maryland and look like a really solid and organized team and definitely have some players that can make the difference, so we’re expecting a similar battle to the one we had over the weekend [against Indiana].”
Whether Rutgers has been at home or on the road, one clear improvement the Knights will look to make is on defense, having conceded in their last six games, allowing 12 goals.
The defense will have to limit its errors against Michigan State, which has conceded once this season and ranks second in the nation in goals allowed.
Though part of the struggles have been due to junior defender Drew Morgan’s head injury problems, fellow junior defender Mitchell Taintor feels the defensive woes are a team issue more than a problem with the back four.
“I just think everyone needs to focus on their individual battles they have on the field,” Taintor said. “I feel like sometimes, everyone is very laissez faire, but I feel like if everyone gets in the mindset that they need to win their spot on the field and win their individual battles … we’ll be fine because we have the players to do it.”
Following the Knights’ last defeat to Indiana, Donigan believes the fight shown in the loss brings plenty of positives to build on for Sunday’s encounter.
With that in mind, Donigan said there have been no major changes in the practice routine, with the Knights continuing to focus on little things like getting more services from the flanks and being more unpredictable in the attack.
The one change Donigan is certain to make come Sunday is to be better prepared for the weather, a lesson he had to learn the hard way at Wisconsin.
“I’m going to be prepared for a cold day, as opposed to last time when I didn’t even go with the winter jacket,” Donigan said. “… But yeah, for me, really once the game starts, I really don’t pay attention to the weather.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.