Rutgers ekes out victory on road against Princeton
Another victory, at last, was earned for the Rutgers men’s soccer team on Tuesday night, when it faced an instate rival on the road.
The Scarlet Knights (2-7-1, 0-4-0) traveled down to Princeton (1-4-2, 0-0-0) to play in one of the biggest rivalries the state of New Jersey has to offer. Rutgers defeated the Tigers, 1-0, in an intense outing, resulting in another notch in the win column.
“This was very important for us,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “Princeton is a very good team, it was a very good game. At the end of the day it came down to getting quality chances and finishing plays off.”
The 7 p.m. kickoff marked the 59th game ever in which the Knights and Princeton have faced each other. With the win, Rutgers inched closer to catching up to the Tigers, who currently lead the series 29-21-9.
The Knights got off to a slow start in the matchup, not getting a shot off until the 34th minute of play, while Princeton got seven shots off up to that point. Freshman defender Bryce Washington got that first shot in for Rutgers, but his header went wide of the goal and out of bounds.
“It was definitely a good win after a tough start to the season,” said junior forward Miles Hackett. “We performed well, we got out of our slump and it feels good to get a win.”
The Knights had their second and final shot of the first half in the 41st minute taken by sophomore forward Brian Hawkins, going high over the post and keeping the teams tied up at 0-0. The Tigers totaled nine shots in the first half.
Things picked up from there for Rutgers when senior forward Dante Perez got a shot off just six minutes out from the halftime locker room break. Perez’s shot was blocked but then sent out of bounds by Princeton.
In the 55th minute, Hackett caught a pass from Perez which came through from midfield. Hackett swiftly maneuvered through the defense and put in the first goal of the game for the Knights.
“We’ve just been working hard as a team,” Hackett said. “We’ve been trying to get more fit, trying to gel a little bit better as a team, because we didn’t perform well during the first half of the season.”
After the goal from Hackett, it seemed like Rutgers took its feet off the gas pedal, focusing on the defensive side of the game in order to preserve its lead. Hackett got off just one more shot in the 87th minute and that ended the offensive attack for the Knights.
For the next twenty minutes after Rutgers' goal, the Tigers put on an aggressive attitude, taking four shots in that span but remained unable to even up the score.
The Knights' defense proved to be up to the challenge, stopping an onslaught of shots to end the game and kept Princeton scoreless. When the referee blew the final whistle, Rutgers stood victorious with a 1-0 win on the road.
“It feels really good,” Washington said. “It was a hard-fought game. As a team, we needed it, we fought hard and everyone did their job defensively.”
For the game, the Tigers put in everything it had, taking 19 shots over the course of the 90 minutes, while the Knights took just five. Princeton won almost every important statistical category, but it could not stop Rutgers from winning the most important one: goals.
This was junior goalkeeper Rafael Pereira’s second shutout of the season, the first one coming in the 0-0 draw against UMKC earlier this month. Pereira saved seven shots on goal in the game, matching a season high that he recorded last game against Indiana.
The hard-earned victory officially brings the Knights over the hump of pressure it had dating back to last season, when the team secured only one win for the year. Rutgers can now breathe a little easier knowing it has surpassed last year's total.
After the win over the Tigers, the Knights will face another rival, as Big Ten conference member Wisconsin travels down to Piscataway for a Sunday afternoon kickoff.
“We are just trying to work hard, grind, come out every day and prepare ourselves come game time,” Hackett said.
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