Rutgers seeks second conference win in Ann Arbor
For the second weekend in a row, the Rutgers men’s soccer team will face a top-flight Big Ten opponent after crushing a non-conference foe.
The Scarlet Knights (5-4-1, 1-3-0) travel to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan this Saturday after blowing past Yale midweek.
Michigan and Rutgers have been having extremely different seasons thus far.
The Wolverines (5-3-2, 2-0-2) currently lead the Big Ten Conference with eight points in four games. They received 24 votes in this week’s National Soccer Coaches of America Association (NSCAA) poll.
Michigan has received results against quality opposition early in the conference schedule. The Wolverines opened the conference campaign against No. 25 Maryland, with whom they forced a scoreless draw in College Park when the Terrapins were ranked fourth in the nation.
Michigan then downed Northwestern, 3-0, at the University of Michigan Soccer Stadium before traveling to State College, where they defeated Penn State, 2-0. The Nittany Lions were ranked No. 21 in the NSCAA poll at the time.
Freshman forward Francis Atuahene has played a big role in Michigan’s best start since 2009, when it started the season 7-2.
After sophomore forward Jason Wright tore apart the Big Ten in his freshman season for Rutgers last year, Atuahene is following in his footsteps in his first year in Ann Arbor. The Accra, Ghana, native is tied with Wright for most goals in the Big Ten, as both forwards have notched 10 tallies this season.
Factoring in Michigan’s last five matches, Atuahene has been on a tear as of late. That includes his team's most recent outing — a 1-1 tie at No. 7 Notre Dame.
Given the ferocious start to the season from the Wolverines, a win would be huge for the Knights.
“It would be big," head coach Dan Donigan said. "Michigan’s leading the conference right now, so it would be a huge road win."
While three points is the goal for Rutgers every time its steps on the pitch, leaving the Great Lakes State with a draw wouldn’t be the end of the world for the boys from the Banks.
“A point will be good but we definitely want a win,” Wright said. “Going on the road to Michigan, they’re top of the Big Ten in the standings so even a point will be good for us, but we’re going for a win.”
While the Wolverines have been tearing up the Big Ten, Rutgers has not had the same level of success.
Entering Ann Arbor at last place in the Big Ten, the Knights' three points came as a result of a 4-1 upset over then-No. 22 Indiana in Bloomington.
Since then, Rutgers has dropped its last two conference meetings. Two weeks ago, the Knights fell in a 3-1 decision to Michigan State, a match where a slow start doomed the Knights. And then last weekend, they lost to Penn State, 2-0, when a 3-hour power outage at Yurcak Field ruined any momentum they had coming out of the break.
Rutgers won its latest contest — a 5-2 drubbing of Yale — but careless mistakes and complacency worry Donigan as his team prepares to face a more formidable opponent this weekend.
“We just kind of play the game the way we’re comfortable sometimes and that’s not good enough,” Donigan said. “We could get away with it (against Yale) because we had the lead for the most part, but against a tougher team, it’s gonna be difficult. Can’t get away with it.”
In order to assess what went wrong against the Bulldogs, the Knights will review film from Tuesday’s match.
“First, we’ll watch videos definitely,” Wright said when asked how the team will repair its mistakes. “Some guys will watch over the game and see their mistakes. We’ll work on it in training. We’ll imitate the scenario in training and try to fix it and try to create a solution for it.”
Video sessions are a crucial part of game preparation, the first step in a long process of constant improvement.
"It’s very important because seeing a replay of what you’ve done is always the best way to actually go for it in correcting the mistake,” Wright said. “So the videos are very important for us.”
Wright led the Knights’ offense against Yale, scoring his first hat trick for Rutgers. The Jamaican U-23 international member has scored five goals in his last three matches, having scored a brace against Loyola (Md.) over a week ago.
Along with Wright, senior forward JP Correa also has a hot foot. He has three goals on top of three assists in the past three games, including a brace against Yale on Tuesday.
Correa believes that while Rutgers hasn’t gotten the sought after conference wins in the early going, it isn’t due to a lack of quality. Understanding the quality Michigan possesses, the Montville, New Jersey, native has full confidence his team can return to the win column in conference play this weekend.
“It’s gonna be a tough game but I know we can beat them,” Correa said. “We’re a good team. We haven’t really been outplayed. We’ve lost some games, but we’ve been better than our opposition. So we just have to go out there, play the way we can and hope we get the win.”
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