Rutgers extends win streak to seven games
In the thick of a tight race for the Big Ten Conference regular season title, the No. 21 Rutgers men’s soccer team has its biggest match since joining the conference last season looming ahead.
But before the Scarlet Knights travel to College Park to face Maryland on Wednesday, they hosted Nebraska-Omaha in their final regular season match at Yurcak Field of 2015 Saturday afternoon.
The Knights (11-4-1, 4-3-0) took care of business on Halloween in a 1-0 shutout victory over the Mavericks to extend their winning streak to seven games. That mark is good for the third-longest active winning streak in the country (Georgetown- 10, Clemson- 8).
Despite facing a fifth-year program that’s existed for less time than Dan Donigan’s reign as the head coach for Rutgers, the Knights faced problems with their stubborn visitors.
Donigan was filled with praise for his team’s latest victim.
“It was a tough game,” the sixth-year head coach said. “I really like their team. I think they’re an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. I knew it was going to be a tough team ... I give them a lot of credit.”
Mitchell Taintor scored the only goal of the game for Rutgers.
The senior midfielder received a pass from sophomore midfielder Brandon Tetro on the right flank, ran into Omaha’s penalty area and blasted a shot into the roof of Joseph Ghitis’s goal.
Happy to score, Taintor shared the praise with Tetro, whose pass was crucial.
“It’s always nice scoring. I think it’s good for my confidence and it’s always good for the team,” Taintor said. “Brandon (Tetro) played a great ball to me. It was a precise pass. Without it being that perfect, I wouldn’t have had the shot.”
After the ball hit the net for Taintor’s third goal of the season, the Storrs, Connecticut, native ran down the endline and celebrated differently than the standard open arms run or hugging his teammates.
“Honestly, I didn’t really know what to do and playing FIFA, you do the dead fish and I did it,” Taintor said. “It kind of hurt, knocked the wind out of myself.”
Rutgers, which ranked sixth in the nation in scoring offense (2.33 goals per game) entering the matchup, was unable to put any more goals past Ghiltis after Taintor’s opener. The Knights finished the match with just seven shots, less than half of their average of 15.6 shots per game.
Donigan felt his team wasn’t sharp and did not manage its lead in the best way possible.
“We were a bit stale, a bit stagnant, especially in the second half,” Donigan said. “We were kind of just sitting on our 1-0 lead, but for me, that’s not the way to manage the game properly. But having said that, we did a good enough job.”
The Knights were able to contain the Mavericks long enough to keep their fifth clean sheet in their past seven matches.
Shutting out opponents has been a key element in Rutgers’ seven-game winning streak. Once it earned the first clean sheet of the streak, it’s become a habit.
“We’re just happy to extend the winning streak to seven now. We did our job,” said junior goalkeeper David Greczek. “I was very happy with the defense. We worked very hard, we were very disciplined … since the first clean sheet, when we turn on and we’re on the same page, everything just falls into place for us.”
In the final 15 minutes, the Mavericks were beginning to become frustrated. Unable to break through the Knights’ backline, Omaha became increasingly aggressive in trying to recover possession whenever they lost the ball.
In the 84th minute, Omaha midfielder Fazlo Alihodzic made a hard tackle on Rutgers defender Tyler Morris from behind. Alihodzic was sent off by referee Tony Russo, given a straight red for the reckless challenge.
“I told the ref, ‘That’s gotta be a red card or I don’t know anything about soccer,’” Taintor said about his conversation following the foul.
Donigan was quick to rush onto the field to check on Morris, worried he might have lost one of the pillars of his defense for the season.
“I thought he broke his leg. I was very upset,” Donigan said. “I want to protect my player and I wanted to get out there and make sure he didn’t break his leg. It was a nasty, nasty tackle.”
Morris, who Donigan described as being a “tough-as-nails kid,” was able to stand back up under his own power, finishing out the rest of the match on the field.
Despite the ugly display from the Mavericks — who had another player sent off after receiving a second yellow card — toward the end of the match, Donigan believes the actions of a few don’t represent the program and its head coach Jason Mims, who Donigan coached when he was an assistant at Saint Louis.
“Kids want to win, they want to fight to compete, and that’s fine, but the one tackle was pretty bad,” Donigan said. “But again, that’s not a reflection of what that team is and who that coach is, because I know that coach and he doesn’t condone those things. It was just an unfortunate incident, but we move on.”
Rutgers moves on from this game with Maryland on its mind. Once the final whistle blew on Saturday, the Knights’ focus shifted to the match on Wednesday that will play a huge part in determining how everything ends up in the Big Ten standings heading into the conference tournament.
“I told them (after the game), ‘We got the job done, now this game’s behind us and we have to start thinking about Wednesday,'" Donigan said.
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.