Rutgers hosts in-state NJIT as it continues to fight for first win
Coming off its most heartbreaking loss of the season, the Rutgers men’s soccer team looks to lick its wounds and go back to battle Tuesday.
Last Friday, the Scarlet Knights led Northwestern 1-0 with two minutes remaining, but what looked like a potential first win of the season turned into a sickening ending, as the Wildcats tied the game in the 88th minute and went on to win the game in overtime.
Tuesday night, a new opponent will visit the Banks and this time it is North Jersey rival NJIT.
The Highlanders travel to Yurcack Field for the third year in a row, but unlike the first two, this match is not for a preseason exhibition. The previous two seasons that the Knights hosted NJIT, they handled them in closely contested games, winning both 1-0.
The Highlanders harvest a 6-4-3 record and are the 10th team this season the Knights will play with a winning record. NJIT nests in the same conference — Atlantic Sun — as No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast, the team that shot out to an early 5-0 lead on Rutgers before allowing a Knights' comeback and holding on for a 6-5 win.
But this game doesn’t have too much meaning besides boosting his team’s spirits, Donigan said. He is looking ahead to the bigger and more important tasks and believes his team must restore their health and get ready for a tough Penn State game on Friday.
“The game's important from a moral standpoint, (but) other than that it really doesn’t mean anything.” Donigan said. “We gotta get healthy, we gotta get ready for Penn State in conference and we gotta kinda prepare for postseason tournament at this point. So you know, really those games from a result standpoint are only morale boosters.”
Very similar to the Knights this season, the Highlanders haven't scored many goals, only averaging 1.08 per contest.
But in order for the Knights win the game, they must sneak a goal out against the second best goalkeeper in the Atlantic Sun in terms of goals-against-average in Victor Pujades. Pujades has only allowed .93 goals per game and is third in the conference in save percentage at .755.
NJIT is also in first place in its conference, and midfielder Mamadou Guirassy has scored the fourth most goals in the conference.
But like every other team Rutgers has faced this season, the Highlanders strength of schedule is significantly weaker than the Knights. NJIT has only faced one ranked opponent this year in No. 12 FGCU and that game was in conference. Rutgers has faced three ranked opponents within its conference and an additional four outside of the Big Ten.
Junior forward Jason Wright, who scored the Knights lone goal Friday night, believes his team must control the offense more efficiently and said it’s the only way it can win.
“I think we just have to go out there and play and be more efficient offensively to ease some pressure off our defense," Wright said. "That’s the only way we can win, when we score, so I guess we gotta be more efficient and effective with our offense.”
After the Highlanders visits Piscataway on Tuesday night, there will only be one more home game for the season. And with Rutgers being winless with one fourth of the season left, losses are more glaring.
But Donigan believes his team will break into the win column soon — very soon.
“I believe it's gonna come Tuesday, but we'll see Tuesday.” Donigan said.
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