Rutgers blanks Army in defensive gauntlet
Facing the 37th-ranked defensive team in the nation in Army on Tuesday night at Yurcak Field, the Rutgers men’s soccer team knew finding goals would present a challenge.
The loss of junior forward J.P. Correa to a hamstring injury made the prospects of doing so seem even more difficult.
But instead of one of the Scarlet Knights’ known offensive players providing a clinical goal, it was junior defender Mitchell Taintor, who delivered the offensive spark when he scored his first goal of the season.
Starting as a forward across from freshman Jason Wright, Taintor proved the difference with awareness and speed, scoring his first goal of the season in Rutgers’ (5-8-1) 1-0 win over the Black Knights (5-5-4).
“It’s not so much about the goal. I think it was a little bit of luck, but Jason and I and the midfielders were all in sync tonight,” Taintor said of the performance. “It wasn’t the prettiest game, but I felt like it was a lot easier for everyone since we were high pressing and [having] two up top.”
It seemed Taintor’s best opportunity to score early in the first half was wasted when he stripped Army goalkeeper Winston Boldt off the ball.
With an empty net to aim for, Taintor elected to pass to Wright, which gave Boldt just enough time to get back in goal to make the save.
But Taintor was given a second bite of the apple around 13 minutes later when he intercepted Boldt’s rollout to his defender.
This time, the Storrs, Connecticut, native put his head down and charged the net with speed before blasting a shot to the near post past Boldt for the eventual game-winning goal.
“[On the first chance], the goalie went to kick it and it hit my calf and I had an open net, but I was at a bad angle and I saw Jason in the middle of the goal, so I decided to pass it to him because he had a better chance of scoring,” Taintor said. “But then on the goal, I was in the right place in the right time, and I had a hard shot and it deflected in.”
Taintor starting at forward may have been the most notable change for the Knights, but there were plenty of alterations to last Saturday’s lineup against Northwestern.
Head coach Dan Donigan elected to change the team’s formation from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2, with two forwards up top to relieve pressure off Wright and not having them defend as much with more numbers in the attack.
The tactical change had its positives, with the Knights creating plenty of chances to score and the defense looking relatively compact.
But Army still ended up outshooting Rutgers, 13-12, in the match, which included some glaring chances the Black Knights could easily have capitalized on.
“I don’t know [if the change] worked great tonight, I mean it’s hard to judge … so, will we do the same thing [the next game]?” Donigan said. “I’m not sure yet.”
Sophomore goalkeeper David Greczek retaining his starting job after two and a half games sitting on the bench was another change made by Donigan.
Despite a late blunder on a soft shot coming toward him that nearly sneaked by, Greczek had a solid performance, making five saves and earning the team’s first shutout in six games.
“To me, it was like a fresh start,” Greczek said. “I had high intensity, high motivation to get the win and I didn’t do much in this game. But I was just happy that I was in net and we got the win.”
The win was Rutgers’ second consecutive Tuesday night victory and makes the Knights 2-0 against Patriot League opposition this season.
It was also the Knights’ first 1-0 result since the opening game of the season against UMKC, showing the grit and battle Donigan has yearned for all season long.
“It was a grind out victory. It was not pretty at all,” Donigan said. “By no means was I pleased by the way we played, but I was pleased with our defensive effort ... and we did enough defensively to keep them off the board, which is always going to put you in a good position to get a result.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.