Rutgers aims to maintain home win streak against Syracuse
Off to its best start in the Dan Donigan head coaching era, the Rutgers men’s soccer team finally appears to have things going its way after an inconsistent and unlucky 2013 campaign.
But tonight at Yurcak Field against former Big East rival Syracuse, the Scarlet Knights (2-0) face a team with experience, depth and plenty of elite attacking talent.
Although the two wins were a nice start, the Knights know now is not the time to get complacent.
“I know a bunch of guys on Syracuse,” said junior forward J.P. Correa. “They’re an old and experienced team. They have a bunch of seniors and juniors so I expect a tough game, so we better come ready to play. Otherwise, it’s going to be a tough one.”
The Orange (2-0) has a lot more in common with Rutgers other than being former conference foes.
Like Rutgers under Donigan, Syracuse has had a complete transformation under fifth-year head coach Ian McIntyre, who led the Orange to their second-ever NCAA tournament appearance in 2012 and Sweet 16 run after finishing 3-12-1 the year before.
The success is nearly identical to Donigan’s second year in charge, when he led the Knights to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament after finishing 4-11-1 the previous season.
Both teams also have a good mix of youth and experience, talented young forwards and coaches who are attacking oriented.
“I think there will be a little more soccer played in this game with Syracuse,” Donigan said. “I expect them to come out and try and keep possession and play build up possession and look to attack with numbers, so it’ll be a little different style or different brand of soccer.”
Against UMKC and Lafayette, the Knights were forced to throw more numbers forward into the attack, with both teams sitting back with numbers behind the ball looking to spring on the counter.
That won’t be the case against Syracuse, a team whose win total from last year was greater than the combined wins of Rutgers’ previous two opponents.
The Orange have also scored three goals in each of their two games with six different players finding the back of the net. They have not conceded a goal this season.
Despite the talent Syracuse possesses and its impressive 7-0 non-conference record from a year ago, the Knights’ defense has looked much improved, with four starters returning from last season.
Junior defender and captain Drew Morgan believes the Knights’ defense can handle any attacking threat, with their only goal conceded an unfortunate own goal against Lafayette while defending a set piece.
“[Syracuse] scores lots of goals, so they’re really attacking oriented, probably have a couple threats, but I’m not too worried about it,” Morgan said. “In general I’m more worried about how we play. If we play the way we can play and want to play, we should be fine.”
Although Syracuse will be a step up from Rutgers’ previous two opponents, Donigan says this week’s preparation is more about keeping his players legs fresh while refining finer details like taking care of the ball in crucial moments.
Given the Knights’ experience of playing high-quality opponents the last couple of seasons, Donigan feels Thursday’s game will be something his players are prepared for.
“We’ve faced teams like Syracuse ever since we’ve come here,” Donigan said. “There’s a lot of quality opponents on our schedule so we treat them no differently than a Virginia or a Louisville or a Maryland. It’s all the same, everybody’s capable, everybody’s capable of beating each other.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.