Rutgers defeats Penn for third straight win
If scoring goals is wrong, Jason doesn’t want to be Wright.
Sophomore forward Jason Wright continued his phenomenal form Tuesday night in Philadelphia when he sealed the Rutgers men’s soccer team’s 2-0 win against Penn with a goal one minute before the final whistle blew.
The Kingston, Jamaica, native received the ball in acres of space and ran toward the Quakers' goal, rounded Penn substitute goalkeeper Etan Mobourahk and slid the ball into the empty net for his seventh goal in his past five matches.
The goal was the cherry on top of a big day for Wright. Earlier in the afternoon, the Big Ten’s top goalscorer (10) was announced as both the Big Ten and NSCAA Player of the Week, as well as a member of TopDrawerSoccer’s team of the week.
"I’m feeling pretty good and confident in the way I’m playing right now," Wright said. "I’m scoring and it feels really good."
Wright’s goal confirmed the Scarlet Knights’ (7-4-1, 2-3-0) first three-game winning streak of the season at a time when Penn was threatening to equalize the match. The Quakers (2-7-1, 1-1-0) improved massively in the second half, forcing junior goalkeeper David Greczek to make a couple of pivotal saves to preserve the Knights’ fourth clean sheet of the season.
“As a goalkeeper, it’s fantastic. As a defensive unit, it’s even better," Greczek said of getting a clean sheet. "Just happy that the boys were in sync and always on the same page and able to get the job done.”
Penn grew into the game around the same time Rutgers made a number of changes to the 11 that started the match at Rhodes Field.
Senior center back Drew Morgan, who opened the scoring for the Knights, was pulled from the game and sophomore right-back Niel Guzman took his place.
"Drew (Morgan) just had a little injury that he had to come out of the game," said head coach Dan Donigan. "So not to jeopardize his health, a simple adjustment allowed for us to slide Guzman (to center-back) and bring Ahmad (Faheem) onto the field."
The core of a defense is a formula that coaches tend not to tweak, but Donigan was forced to make a change with a minimal lead and, aside from a scare in the second half where the would-be tying goal for the Quakers was called back for offside, Guzman did well in an unfamiliar position.
"Guzzie did well. He's been a great contributor this year," Donigan said. "Guzzie gives us good presence on the field, he’s good on the ball, he makes good decisions, he’s got good pace to help cover us in the back and he’s got great athleticism, so he brings a lot to the table for us."
But when Rutgers had its usual starting 11 on the pitch, it dominated the match.
The Knights outshot Penn, 10-4, in the first half before the changes were made, but even that doesn’t show how well Rutgers was playing.
The two-minute period between the 18th and 20th minutes perfectly demonstrated the Knights’ high level of play in the opening half.
After Morgan opened the scoring with a towering header off a corner from fellow senior center back Mitch Lurie, Rutgers continued to pile on the pressure to the Quakers' backline.
A clearance from a Penn defender bounced toward sophomore forward Miles Hackett, who cleanly hit a shot off the half-volley that rattled off the far post of starting goalkeeper Max Polkinhorne’s goal in the 20th minute.
Morgan’s opening goal also opened his tally for the season. Having only scored once in his career on the Banks prior to Tuesday, the Atlanta, Georgia, native was happy to see his header go into the back of the net.
“It felt good, obviously, to get the first goal of the season,” Morgan said. “I had a close one against Monmouth that didn’t go in, so finally being able to connect and get the goal feels good, especially as a defender since you don’t get too many chances.”
If Hackett’s shot had gone in, it would’ve given the Knights some insurance and peace of mind. Instead, Rutgers had to grind out a win against a resilient Penn side that Donigan said is “much better than their record indicates.”
With a conference matchup against Northwestern looming in the distance, Donigan believes the Knights’ defense can be improved to counteract the great players their opponents have in attack.
“Going forward, we know we are going to have to tighten up the defense,” Donigan said. “Everyone has weapons that can hurt you, so moving forward we need to do a better job defensively to make sure we stay in the game and hopefully our offense can counter with quality opportunities.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.