Rutgers seeks fourth straight win in Chicago
Just as stats don’t tell the whole story, results aren’t completely indicative of a team’s performance.
Despite earning a win in each of its last three matches — the longest winning streak of the season — the Rutgers men’s soccer team has not played up to par on the pitch as of late.
In their latest outing, the Scarlet Knights (7-4-1, 2-3-0) struggled against a Penn team that failed to score in 6 of 10 contests this season. Although they ultimately finished the match with a 2-0 win, the Knights had to sweat out the second half until sophomore forward Jason Wright put the game away with an insurance goal in the game’s final minutes.
The closeness of the match against a team that, according to its record, is inferior to Rutgers, serves as a way to keep the team humble and on its toes moving forward.
“You’ve gotta be very respectful — that’s why I don’t look at records at this point,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “There’s no question that’s an eye-opener for us. The guys realize that they didn’t play well and they can’t play like that every game because eventually you’re going to run into a better team or a team that’s going to make you pay for those lapses in the 90 minutes.”
The Knights look to extend their season-high winning streak Friday night when they travel to Chicago for a Big Ten Conference matchup with Northwestern.
The scouting report done on the Wildcats by the Rutgers coaching staff reveals a disciplined, organized side. The key to success for the Knights is to gamble going forward without leaving too much space in behind, Donigan said.
“It’s typical Northwestern. They’re very organized, they’re very disciplined on the defensive side of the ball,” Donigan said. “We just have to be very disciplined in the way we approach this game with our shape and try to impose our game on them a little bit and throw some good numbers at them in the attack and hope we don’t expose ourselves defensively.”
Rutgers enters Toyota Park with a chip on its shoulder.
In the last meeting between the sides, the Wildcats came to Piscataway and left Yurcak Field with a 2-0 win.
Along with avenging last season’s defeat, Rutgers has a chance to pass Northwestern in the Big Ten standings. Both teams enter Friday’s contest with six points, just two points off of first place Michigan.
Northwestern earned its six conference points by defeating Ohio State, 2-1 and upsetting No. 13 Maryland by the same scoreline in extra-time. The two Big Ten wins for the Wildcats came on either end of losses to Indiana and the conference leading Wolverines — the two teams the Knights defeated to earn their six points.
While Tuesday’s win over Penn wasn’t the cleanest win of the season, the Knights feel good heading to the Windy City.
“We feel good,” said junior goalkeeper David Greczek. “We had a pretty good practice (Thursday) morning. We’re on a three-game winning streak, hopefully we take that momentum going forward and make that a four-game winning streak. With that, it’ll carry on to Army and so forth.”
While the wins weren’t convincing, they are wins nonetheless. With victory comes confidence, and Rutgers is not lacking in that department.
“Always to win,” Wright said of what he expects. “Again, to win on the road in a conference game would be great, but anything other than a loss would be good.”
Facing a critical stretch of the season, the Knights cannot afford to drop anymore points. Every game is a final from here on out for Rutgers.
“Every game is so important at this point … There’s two, three, four matches left. We’ve got three crucial matches left — two on the road, one at home — and we gotta get as many points out of these matches as we can to give ourselves a chance to, No. 1, win the conference regular season and No. 2, get a high seed in the conference tournament.”
With three games remaining on the conference slate, Donigan does not deviate from the objectives he set at the beginning of the season.
"It’s always a goal,” Donigan said of winning the Big Ten regular season title. “You want to win every game. You want to win everything you’ve set out for in the beginning of the season. There’s no question that’s a realistic goal for us at this point in the season, we’re not that far away.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.