Rutgers completes regular season against Bradley
The Rutgers men’s soccer team plays its 16th and final regular season game Saturday night on the road in Peoria, Illinois. The Scarlet Knights (0-13-2) have yet to win a game this season but have battled most of the teams on their schedule.
Five out of the eight ranked teams Rutgers has faced this season have ended in either a two or one-goal loss, or a draw. Head coach Dan Donigan frequently explains after each game that this season just has not been his team’s year.
The Knights' season can be capped in the end of their last-played conference match, where they went from leading against Northwestern — their first real opportunity to win three points in conference play — only to concede a goal with two minutes remaining before losing in the first half of overtime.
But the season isn't just over yet and players are taking each game like it’s a new season striving for momentum heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
“Last (regular) season game, I think we’re gonna go out like we do every game, just go out treating it like it’s a new season,” said sophomore midfielder Thomas Dovell, referring to Rutgers' approach entering Illinois. “Then we’ll push forward to the Big Ten tournament, so everyday’s a new day and that’s how we look at it.”
The team that will be standing in Rutgers’ way from ending the season with a win is Bradley. The Braves (2-11-3) had a similar season to the Knights. Though they have two wins, they’ve only played one ranked team on Sept. 4 against then-No. 16 Utah Valley. The Braves lost that contest only by a score of 1-0, but the momentum of playing them tough didn’t transpire into any tangible results.
Bradley defeated two teams this season — Fairleigh Dickinson and Western Illinois. The Braves haven’t tasted a win in over a month, but Rutgers hasn’t savored a win in official conference play since a 2-0 win over the Wildcats in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament nearly a year ago.
But a big reason on why the Knights are winless is lack of shots taken on goal. Rutgers has only accumulated 48 shots on goal, compared to 134 by its opponents.
“I think we need to make more runs off the ball, our movement off the ball definitely needs to increase,” said junior forward Dante Perez. “We (also) gotta take shots, we gotta take chances."
When you don’t shoot accurately, you don’t score, Perez said.
Saturday night may be the Knights’ best opportunity to lock a win up this season. Bradley has only 10 goals recorded this season compared to Rutgers’ 12. The Braves also trail in shots per game by a total shot but lead the Knights in a category that has given them problems all year. Bradley allows 1.63 goals a game and Rutgers only averages .80 goals a game.
The game Saturday night can have a lot to do with the mental state of the Knights for the upcoming play-in-game Rutgers will be forced to play in order to make it into the Big Ten Tournament.
“Absolutely no question,” Donigan replied when asked if a win Saturday can build momentum up. “I mean, it's all about that play-in-game right now for us, so anything we do going into that (game), that’s gonna be positive and that can build some momentum, we’re all about it lets make it happen.”
In a tough season that has only gotten tougher, Donigan is out of phrases and pump up speeches for his guys. The one thing he does hope for his team is that they put the negative thoughts behind and go out and win a game.
“I told the guys, we can continue to say all the same stuff, you can only come up with so many different phrases or different sayings or different things after these games throughout the course of the season, it gets repetitive,” Donigan said. “So it's like look, we just gotta be positive (and) put all the stuff behind us, yup we made some mistakes that led to that own goal situation, we missed our chances, it is what it is its been the story of the season. But let's put that behind us and let's go out to Bradley and win a ball game.”
For updates on the Rutgers men's soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.