Rutgers falls despite performance in net
In the Rutgers men’s soccer team’s first two games against UMKC and Lafayette, sophomore goalkeeper David Greczek made a combined six saves.
In one half against former Big East rivals Syracuse last night at Yurcak Field, Greczek already matched that total.
Syracuse’s first-half dominance forced head coach Dan Donigan to make some drastic changes at halftime, scrapping a two-forward system to add another midfielder in the middle of the park.
But despite an improved second-half effort, the Orange managed to score with 16 minutes remaining off a flicked header from star forward Emil Ekblom, proving to be the game winner in a 1-0 Rutgers defeat.
“We wanted to bring it them, but you could say we kind of got outplayed,” Greczek said of the performance. “You just got to bounce back from it.”
Following a head injury to junior defender Drew Morgan late in the first half, sophomore defender Kieran Kemmerer took over for the second half.
But that was not the only change at halftime.
In an attempt to hold more possession, Donigan moved defender Ross Tetro to the center of the midfield at the expense of junior forward J.P. Correa, who started the second half from the bench.
The change in shape was much more effective, holding Syracuse (3-0) to just three shots in the second half. But the Knights (2-1) still struggled to create consistent scoring chances.
After successfully defending eight corner kicks in the first half, a second-half free kick from midfielder Alseth Oyvind found the head of Ekblom, who got just enough on the header to guide it past Greczek’s left hand side.
Pushing for an equalizer, the Knights’ best chance came with 4:40 remaining when a corner kick from sophomore midfielder Erik Sa found the head of an open Correa.
But the forward’s effort was right at Syracuse goalkeeper Alex Bono, doing just enough to prevent the goal.
Although Rutgers outshot Syracuse, 4-3, in the second half and had three corner kicks opposed to zero in the first half, it proved too late.
“I thought we were outplayed in the first half for sure,” Sa said. “… I think in a whole they were the better team for most of the game. We had some chances toward the end, but that’s soccer. They had chances, too.”
It did not take long for Syracuse to get on the stat sheet in the first half, with Orange midfielder Julian Buescher forcing Greczek to make his first save in the opening two minutes.
It was a sign of things to come for the Orange, who ended the half with an 8-0 advantage in corner kicks and 8-4 advantage in shots.
With relentless ball pressure, Syracuse controlled the midfield in the opening 45 minutes by pinning Rutgers back into its own half, which left freshman forward Jason Wright alone up front by himself for large portions.
When the Knights were able to win the ball back, the Orange quickly applied pressure, forcing either carless turnovers or long balls right back to the Syracuse defense.
The score line could very well have been 2- or 3-0 had it not been for Greczek, who made several magnificent saves, most notably to deny Syracuse midfielder Chris Nanco inside the 18-yard box.
“[Greczek] made unbelievable saves but I told our guys you can’t expect him to stand on his head for 90 minutes every game, so we have to find ways to prevent those kinds of opportunities,” Donigan said.
The Knights had one clear opportunity in the first half when Wright managed to squeeze past two defenders, but his ball to slanting freshman defender Niel Guzman was picked off by a defender.
Syracuse finished the game outshooting Rutgers, 11-8, and holding a significant 12-3 advantage in corner kicks.
While the loss stings, the Knights managed to hold Syracuse below its shots per game average and managed to outplay the Orange for the final 10 minutes.
With such a young team, Donigan believes there are still plenty of positives to take away.
“We are still figuring it out to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s only been four or five games, we still got a long way to go, but I’m looking for a great response from our team on Sunday.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.