Rutgers loses first conference match
In the game of soccer, quality is more important than quantity. Dominating possession and dictating the tempo of a match does not yield success if a team is unable to put the ball in the back of the net.
The Rutgers men’s soccer team learned that lesson the hard way last Friday night against Wisconsin.
With the clock winding down in the second period of extra time at Yurcak Field, Wisconsin goalkeeper Adrian Remeniuk collected a shot for his 10th save on the evening and cleared the ball to midfield.
As the seconds ticked away on what appeared to be headed for a draw, Tom Barlow controlled the clearance at midfield and found sophomore Christopher Mueller streaking through the middle of the pitch for the visitors.
Receiving the pass from Barlow, Mueller struck a shot past goalkeeper David Greczek that hit the left post, then the crossbar and finally bounced into the Scarlet Knights’ goal as the buzzer sounded to signal the match's end.
The 895 fans in attendance held their breath in hopes that the goal would be invalidated as the officials watched a replay to ensure the ball was completely inside the goal before time expired. The hope was short-lived as Mueller’s goal was upheld shortly after.
One year after suffering a golden goal loss at home to the Knights, the Badgers earned their revenge at Yurcak with a 1-0 win.
Head coach Dan Donigan put his reaction to the hectic end to his team’s first Big Ten Conference game of the season into few words.
“It’s a heartbreaker,” Donigan said. “That one stabs you in the heart.”
Rutgers (2-2) outshot Wisconsin (1-4), 27-12, in overall shots and 10-2 in shots on goal, looking like the more dangerous team for most of the night. But it left the pitch with its second consecutive loss and its first ever loss to the Badgers.
Senior midfielder Mitchell Taintor led the team with eight shots. The Storrs, Connecticut, native said his teammates' ability to find him in space throughout the match allowed him to be as aggressive as he was.
"I was just getting balls in good spots and my teammates were looking for me and were able to set me up nicely and give me a lot of room to work with," Taintor said. "Once I got into groove and once I got the ball, things were starting to open up well for me and become a little easier to get into the offensive third."
Regardless of the result, Greczek is proud of his team’s performance and felt the final score doesn’t do justice to what was produced throughout the match.
“At the end of the day, I’m just happy, proud of my boys. We played the best (110) minutes since my freshman year against Penn State,” the junior said. “We dominated the game and I’m just proud how hard they worked. That goal was unfortunate but everyone has their head up in the locker room and we just want to move forward and have this be the last time we have this feeling."
Donigan shares the pride felt by his goalkeeper for his team’s performance, but also recognizes the one thing missing on the offensive end.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m proud of the way they played.” Donigan said. “I thought there were very good portions of the game where we had them on their back foot and we were going at them and I thought it was just going to be a matter of time. But … (we were missing) that final touch, that final play, that final execution.”
The Knights' head coach understands that sometimes a team gets the breaks and sometimes it will come up a touch or two short.
“But that’s the game," he said. "The game sometimes can be very cruel and tonight, it wasn’t very good to us. We deserved much more than that.”
With JP Correa returning from injury, Donigan had a lot of options to work with in his offense.
After a week of preparation, the sixth-year head coach elected to keep Correa in his spot on the wings and put freshman Brian Hawkins in midfield for the first time at Yurcak. While the formation didn’t reap immediate rewards, Hawkins did not disappoint.
“Good,” Donigan said of Hawkins's performance. “I think it’s probably his most effective position. He’s very good in those holes and in those pockets and I think he can combine well with Jason and he can run off guys. He’s got that explosive speed coming out of the midfield spot so I like him in there.”
Two defeats in two matches can bring down the morale of a team, but Donigan said the strong showing from the Knights last Friday night should be recognized and used as fuel moving forward.
“We get ready to go on the road against Monmouth,” Donigan said. “Get ourselves healthy, maintenance the mindset of our guys and hope they feel good about themselves cause they should, in my opinion. I thought we played very well for good portions of that match and this is not the result we deserved tonight. Simple as that.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.