No. 25 Rutgers drops season opener to No. 7 Creighton
The Rutgers men’s soccer team opened its season on the wrong foot, suffering a 2-0 loss to No. 7 Creighton at Yurcak Field Friday night in a match it rarely had a say in.
A 10-minute period in the second half where the Scarlet Knights suffered two goals and a red card spoiled a productive opening hour to the match.
“I knew what we were facing when we were scheduling these games and Creighton’s an exceptional team. I think they’re very, very good,” said head coach Dan Donigan. "Having said that, I still think there are ways to keep yourself in a game and give yourself chances to win and I thought we did it for the most part until (junior forward) Miles (Hackett) goes down with a cramp, we make a sub, kid makes a run through, creates the (penalty that led to the opening goal). To me, all of that is preventable.”
The majority of play was controlled entirely by Creighton, the Blue Jays pinning the Knights in their own half while maintaining a majority of the possession — falling into Donigan’s game plan of soaking the initial pressure.
Long balls out to junior striker Jason Wright, who led Rutgers with 13 goals last season, for him to hold up play while waiting for help were the only way it found any success in the opening half-hour, though the Jamaican was left looking around for teammates that never came numerous times.
The Bluejays early chances came almost exclusively through shots from 25 meters out, with all but one of the chances through the air resulting in a header over the crossbar.
The header that went on frame resulted in the first save of the season for junior goalkeeper David Grezcek as he dove to his left and caught the strike in midair.
The second team All-Big Ten last season was called to action again nearly a half hour later and answered once again, diving to his left once more but this time batting it out for a corner.
As play rolled on and halftime came closer, the Knights began to assert themselves into the match but they weren’t able to maintain the momentum after the second half whistle blew.
Unlike the first half, Rutgers was quick to put itself into the conversation to start the final 45 minutes. The home side began to see more of the ball and creeped closer to Alex Kapp’s goal until its first and only chance arrived in the 56th minute.
Junior Kyle Goodwin, a transfer from Montclair State who arrived as a forward and started the match as a left back, received a pass from senior centerback Niel Guzman near midfield and ran it down the left flank until he reached the end line. He whipped in a cross that found the foot of junior Miles Hackett, lifting the ball up as he turned to strike it, but his strike flew over.
“We were withstanding and again, (Creighton), they’re a good team and sometimes, to win, that’s what you gotta do,” Donigan said. “It was our game plan, let them come at us, let’s withstand what they’re coming with at us initially and then we’ll get our opportunities and I thought we had an unbelievable opportunity with Miles’ chance. You may say that’s only one quality chance, but that’s all you need in this game.”
The best chance would be the last for the Knights as it all went downhill from that miss.
Their comeback attempt was made even more difficult when they were brought down to 10 men when Ryan Peterson, who transferred to Rutgers from North Carolina State, was sent off after receiving a second yellow and made near impossible after suffering a second goal, all in the span of five minutes after the opener.
Greczek was some eight yards off his line and Riggs Lennon took advantage of his made his only mistake of the night, striking it from 30 meters out over the goalkeeper’s outstretched hand and into the back of the net to kill the match with 25 minutes to go.
The remainder of the contest was chippy, with fifth-year senior centerback Tyler Morris being cautioned after a late challenge, earning him the 4th yellow card of the night for the Knights.
Rutgers finished with five yellow cards, Creighton with just one. The final foul tally read 15 against Rutgers, 3 against Creighton.
“I’m not saying that we didn’t foul them but they were persistently fouling us as well and it’s lopsided with the fouls, it’s lopsided with the cautions,” Donigan said. “But again, I don’t want to sound like a poor loser, but those are things that impact the game in a great way and I think the officials can control that. It is what it is.”
Rutgers got off to the wrong foot but the season is long and there is much yet to be played, but it won’t get any easier. The Knights’ challenging out-of-conference schedule continues Sunday when they host No. 10 Denver at 1 and despite the difficult opening night his team faced, Donigan wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My thought is that we have the personnel on our roster to be able to play and compete against these guys. I wanna put my guys out there because that’s what the kids want to play against. I was a player back in the day and I wanted to play against the best teams that are out there … for me, this is what kids want to come to Rutgers to play against.”