Rutgers opens conference schedule at home
The Rutgers men’s soccer team returns to action tonight when it hosts Wisconsin in its first Big Ten Conference match of the season.
If the Scarlet Knights (2-1) were given the opportunity to choose their opponent to open their conference schedule, the Badgers would likely be their choice. The only two conference wins from their inaugural season in the Big Ten came against Wisconsin.
Facing the Badgers (0-4) in their first conference game ever in the Big Ten, the Knights left Madison with a dramatic 3-2 win in extra-time in their first ever meeting.
JP Correa scored a brace, including the game-winning goal just over seven minutes into extra-time, with Rayon Gibbs scoring one of his own to earn the first Big Ten win in any sport in Rutgers history.
The hero of that night, Correa doesn’t believe that the Knights’ past experiences with Wisconsin will play a role in tonight’s matchup.
“Every year’s a different year,” Correa said. “They’re a different team, we’re a different team. It’s a new season, so you gotta leave what’s in the past back and take (tonight) as it comes.”
Rutgers made history again the next time it faced the Badgers, earning its first ever Big Ten tournament win ever after defeating Wisconsin, 5-2, in the first round of the tournament.
After going 3-12-3 last season, the Badgers haven’t shown improvement out of the gate this season, losing all four games they’ve played in.
Head coach Dan Donigan believes Wisconsin’s record does not reflect its quality and acknowledges the strong out-of-conference schedule they’ve faced early on in its season.
“They’re still a young team, but they have a couple of new pieces. They’re a very, very capable team,” Donigan said. “They had a very difficult schedule — Xavier, Butler, Santa Clara, UC Davis — anybody could be 0-4 against those teams. I don’t look at that as Wisconsin is a struggling team. I think they’re a very capable, very good team.”
The Knights look to bounce back from their first loss of the season last Sunday, when Syracuse came from behind to defeat Rutgers, 2-1.
Fifth-year senior Mitch Lurie recognized the poor result, but managed to find the silver lining.
“Syracuse was a good team,” Lurie said. “We, I think, defended a lot in that game, but overall, there were a lot of positives we could take out from it. We had glimpses of stringing some passes together. We scored early, we showed we can score at any time. I think from that game ... we can move forward, and we can continue to improve. We (also) saw some things we were good at that we can continue to do.”
Along with senior defender Drew Morgan and sophomore defender Niel Guzman, Lurie was named to the Central New York Classic All-Tournament following the Knights' matches against Colgate and Syracuse at the weekend.
While he was happy to have his efforts recognized, the Alpharetta, Georgia, native was not satisfied with the result of the match against the Orange.
“It’s great and I’m honored to be able to make the team, but at the same time, not getting a win, I don’t really care about making the tournament team,” Lurie said. “If our team wins, I’m happy. If we don’t, then I’m not going to be satisfied. Once again, it was an honor being chosen. But at the same time, I would've 100 times rather have gotten a win. You can’t trade a win for anything. Losing is the worst thing, and 100 percent of the time I’d rather come out with a win.”
Despite suffering the first loss of the season, the captain has not lost confidence in his team's abilities and enters Friday night prepared to win.
“For Wisconsin, we’re going to have a good week here,” Lurie said. “We only have a couple of days, and then we play again, but we’re going in very confident. … Going into Friday, we need to be confident, work as a unit, both offensively and defensively. And if we do that, we should come out with three points.”
Donigan backs up his captain’s optimism, but warns his team that team records don’t matter when both teams step onto the pitch.
“Wisconsin is limping in here 0-4, but this is a whole new season for them,” Donigan said. “This is the Big Ten, so they have everything to play for come Friday night. They can throw out their out of conference games and everything like that. It’s the Big Ten season, so they’re gong to come in here flying, buzzing.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.