Rutgers opens season with strong showing
PISCATAWAY — The Rutgers men’s soccer team continued its tradition of starting the regular season without tasting defeat, winning its fifth season opener in the past six seasons. The Scarlet Knights defeated visiting Siena last Friday night at Yurcak Field, 4-2, scoring the most goals in a season opener since 2009.
Head coach Dan Donigan was pleased with his team’s performance, especially in the way it approached the match.
“I think it was good,” said the sixth-year head coach. “The mindset, the mentality, the fight, the willingness to compete and not take plays off. There are going to be situations where you find a mistake here or there, but for the most part, our guys have a much better resilience about them right now and that’s what gets you through games.”
The Knights (1-0) came storming out of the gate, opening the scoring three minutes into the contest through Jason Wright. The sophomore forward, named to TopDrawerSoccer’s top 100 players list for the upcoming season, started off on the right foot, scoring his fifth career brace.
Content with his performance, Wright has yet to set a target of goals for the season but he hopes to improve on his freshman season, where he was a unanimous Big Ten All-Freshman Team member and the 14th best player in his class, according to TopDrawerSoccer.
“I just want to do better than last year, both individually and as a team,” Wright said. “I scored 10 (goals) last year, so I’m trying to do better than 10, get some assists and try to help the team to a better season.”
While his biggest contribution to Rutgers were his two goals, the Jamaican national also provided some creative passes, one of which led to teammate Erik Sa being fouled in the penalty area. The referee didn’t hesitate to call the foul and pointed to the penalty spot.
The Knights' captain Mitchell Taintor then stepped up and made no mistake, scoring the second goal of the game for Rutgers.
The Knights’ offense was in sync despite only playing two preseason matches prior to the start of the season, but Wright was not surprised.
“Most times, they say good players know how to play with good players. That’s all I could say,” Wright said. “We’re all talented players and it took a little while, but we’re finally getting it and it’s awesome.”
After Wright took the Big Ten by storm in his freshman season, another Rutgers forward is preparing to follow in his footstep.
Brian Hawkins, an NSCA All-American and New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year last year in his senior season of high school, saw extensive minutes throughout the preseason and earned a spot in the starting 11 against Siena.
Donigan likes the qualities possessed by the forward from Chesterfield, New Jersey.
“I think he’s an exceptional player,” Donigan said. “He’s explosive, he’s dynamic, he’s a weapon, a threat. He’s got great pace and great instincts on the ball. For me, if you have those kind of qualities, you’re probably going to play close to 90 minutes every game.”
Siena reduced the Knights lead to 2-1 with Nils Weddig scoring halfway through the opening period before Wright’s second goal reestablished Rutgers’ two-goal lead heading into halftime.
Coming out of the locker room for the second half, the Knights almost allowed Siena to strike again. A split-second save from junior goalkeeper David Greczek prevented the second period from being a tenuous one for Rutgers.
“Big time save, crucial moment," Donigan said about Greczek's deflection. "We’ve always said we need our keeper to make the game winning save and that was probably a game winning save."
Sophomore forward Miles Hackett, who assisted Wright on his first goal, closed the scoring for the Knights with a header in the 56th minute. Siena scored a consolation goal 15 minutes from full-time through David Itoafa, but the Saints were unable to undo Rutgers’ lead.
Despite assisting half of the four goals scored by the Knights, as well as suffering the foul that lead to the penalty kick, Erik Sa was not satisfied with the shift he put in on Friday night. The junior midfielder sees the match from a glass-half-empty perspective.
“Personally, I was sloppy for part of the game,” Sa said. “You’re never perfect, there's always things to work on. Little tactical things, exploiting teams weaknesses better and putting teams away. You shouldn’t be up 4-1 and give up a goal or be up 2-0 and give up a goal. That shouldn’t happen because college soccer teams never die, especially when we get into conference games ... Scoring four goals, you should never lose.”
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