Rutgers still looking for first home win against in-state rival NJIT
After back to back losses against Big Ten conference rivals, the Rutgers men’s soccer team looks to pick up a much-needed win at home this week against an in-state rival.
The Scarlet Knights (2-9-1, 0-6-0) will host the NJIT Highlanders (7-4-2, 2-1-0) in Piscataway on Wednesday night, taking a small break from Big Ten play. This is the second in-state match of the year for Rutgers, going to Princeton two weeks ago and picking up a win on the road.
The Knights are coming off of two consecutive Big Ten losses, first at home against Wisconsin and then against Michigan this past weekend on the road. Rutgers hasn’t won a conference match since a Big Ten Tournament opening round victory in 2015, while falling in the opening round a year later.
“We just have to play our game,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “We want to have a good run in the next couple of Big Ten games to hopefully position ourselves to not have to face the No. 1 seed in the first round of the tournament again.”
The Highlanders were off to a good start to the season, winning five of their first six matches, but seem to have slowed down a bit as the schedule has picked up. NJIT has fallen in its previous two matches, losing to Saint Francis last week before losing again this past Sunday to Stetson.
Being in the same state means the Knights and Highlanders have met five times over the last 10 years. Rutgers is currently sitting slightly behind NJIT, who leads the series 3-2, but that can all change this Wednesday night.
Between 2007 and 2010, the Knights and Highlanders matched up four times, switching back and forth between Piscataway and Hillside.
“Every time we play NJIT it’s a big game,” said sophomore forward Brian Hawkins. “We’ve got to take them very seriously after we suffered a tough loss to them last year. It just makes the rivalry better, so we are going to go into practice and just do what we do.”
Last season, Rutgers was next in line to win since the Highlanders were making another visit to Yurcak Field, but things were different this time around. NJIT brought the punch to the Knights from start to finish, winning 4-0 and capturing its first victory on the road in the series, while also taking its first lead ever.
In Friday night’s match against the Wolverines, senior forward Ryan Peterson scored the lone goal for Rutgers in the 3-1 loss on the road. Junior goalkeeper Rafael Pereira saved five shots from entering the net but also ended up giving up 3 goals.
“We’ve got a tough game against NJIT coming up,” Peterson said. “We need guys to come off the bench and step up for us. We have a lot of new guys on the team, so they’ve got to bring it every game so that it’s not just 10 of us out there, it’s got to be more like 15.”
Through the first 12 matches of the season, Pereira has made 64 saves versus allowing 33 goals, all while facing over 200 shots. Pereira has also picked up two shutout performances for the Knights against UMKC and Princeton.
Although he has missed the last five matches with an injury, senior forward Ethan Vanacore-Decker is tied with Peterson and fellow senior midfielder Erik Sa in leading the team in goals and points, with 2 and 5, respectively. Peterson and Sa both picked up 1 of their 2 goals off penalty kicks, while Vanacore-Decker missed his lone penalty kick attempt, putting in his 2 goals on the field.
Rutgers is still winless at home this season and will look to capture a victory over the Highlanders with just two more matches at Yurcak Field remaining after Wednesday night’s matchup.
“Every game is hard,” Donigan said. “We don’t even pay attention to the fact that we are winless at home, it’s just a matter of coming out and getting the result against NJIT.”
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