Rutgers looks to ride road win back into Big Ten play against Wisconsin
After a rough start to the first half of the season, the Rutgers men’s soccer team added another win to its season total and at a good time as well, as a conference foe approaches.
The Scarlet Knights (2-7-1) will host their fellow Big Ten conference opponent Wisconsin (5-2-2, 2-1-0) this Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. after ending their five-game losing streak on Tuesday night.
Rutgers traveled down to Princeton for the annual interstate matchup, a tradition that now dates back 59 years. The Knights got the win this time around, bringing the series to 29-21-9 in favor of the Tigers.
Junior forward Miles Hackett put in the deciding goal for Rutgers game, scoring in the 55th minute after the team had a tough start getting shots off in the first half. The Knights focused on defense throughout the game, facing 19 shots from Princeton but allowing none in to secure a 1-0 victory.
“We feel confident,” Hackett said. “After a win, obviously you’re going to feel confident, so hopefully we can just take the momentum from this game and build it on Wisconsin.”
The Badgers, winners of two straight games and four of their last five, are coming into Piscataway feeling good about themselves this far into the season.
In its last game, Wisconsin played host to Wright State, where both teams put on quite a show and ended regulation tied at 1 goal apiece. But the Badgers were able to grab the win in this nail biter.
This weekend’s game will mark the fifth game between the two squads in the last four years. The series is currently tied 2-2, giving Sunday’s game some added significance for both sides.
“The main thing to work on is making sure we are staying positive and making sure we don’t get too comfortable because of the win,” said true freshman Bryce Washington, who helped significantly on the defensive side of the ball, while also adding a shot on offense.
In its inaugural season in the Big Ten, Rutgers made two clear statements against Wisconsin, defeating it once in the regular season and then again during the season-ending Big Ten Tournament.
The first game proved that the Knights deserved to be in the Big Ten, going head to head with the Badgers until the final whistle blew and both teams were stuck at 2 goals each. Rutgers was able to score the winning goal in overtime and pull away with the victory.
The two sides met again just a few weeks later, in the first round of the 2014 Big Ten Tournament. The Knights really brought the beating to Wisconsin, ending its season with a 5-2 crushing loss.
“Our guys are feeling very good right now coming off that win and we feel that we have momentum going into Sunday’s game against Wisconsin,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “We’ve just got to get home and give our guys some time to rest and recover.”
A year later, the Badgers returned the favor in a heartbreaking 1-0 double-overtime win over Rutgers in Piscataway.
Last season, Wisconsin managed to even up the series in similar fashion, being the more aggressive team and capitalizing on a scoring opportunity. That one opportunity was all it needed to secure a 1-0 victory at home.
“It really just comes down to coming out in practice, working hard, taking it one game at a time and hopefully come out with a few wins down the stretch,” Hackett said.
After the win at Princeton, Hackett now leads the Knights in shots attempted this season, while his goal has him tied for second with four other teammates. Seniors Ethan Vanacore-Decker and Erik Sa lead Rutgers in goals this season with 2 each, while Decker leads the team in points overall with five.
Junior goalkeeper Rafael Pereira upped his season save total to 56 after matching a season-high seven saves in the game. Pereira has a combined 14 saves over the last two games after saving seven balls from the net as well.
With a win, the Knights would finally pick up a victory in front of their home fans, something they haven’t done since 2015. Rutgers is currently 0-3-0 at Yurcak Field this season.
“At home, a Big Ten game, we’re excited,” Donigan said.
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