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Inconsistent play plagues Rutgers' season

<p>Sophomore midfielder Erik Sa said the Knights were disappointed with their season as a whole. They finished with a losing record for the second straight year.</p>

Sophomore midfielder Erik Sa said the Knights were disappointed with their season as a whole. They finished with a losing record for the second straight year.

Finding a replacement following the departure of graduating forward Kene Eze was a challenge for the Rutgers men’s soccer team.

Without Eze in the lineup last year with injuries, the Scarlet Knights struggled to score goals and, more importantly, win games, which ultimately cost them in their quest to make the NCAA Tournament. 

Then, the Mael Corboz transfer happened. The junior midfielder was tied for the team lead in points and had seven goals and a team-best six assists to his name last year. He was also one of the Knights’ main leaders and provided the team with a sense of identity. 

But despite losing nearly 63 percent of its goal production and its two best players entering its inaugural season in the Big Ten, Rutgers still believed it could make a lasting first impression. 

Finishing the season at 6-12-1 — the second lowest win total under head coach Dan Donigan — it’s safe to say Rutgers failed to live up to expectations. 

“I expected us to be a little bit more competitive,” said sophomore midfielder Erik Sa. “Especially in the games that we’re pretty much expected to win. Against in-state teams, getting blown out by some of them — we’re not happy with that. And some games … we thought we should’ve won [but] we really didn’t come ready to play in. Those were pretty upsetting.”

Rutgers couldn’t have started the season any better. After opening the year with back-to-back home wins, the Knights opened their conference season with an exhilarating 3-2 double-overtime victory at Wisconsin where junior forward J.P. Correa scored twice, doubling his goal total from all of last year.

But a mixture of difficult conference and non-conference schedules, which included matchups against seven teams in the top 25 in RPI, with inconsistent play led to a difficult end for the Knights.

“It takes time for these guys to understand and grasp the concepts of being able to come out and perform consistently against, what I consider, one of the toughest schedules I’ve ever put together for any of my teams,” Donigan said. “And it’s a lot to ask for, but without the consistency, you’re going to endure a season like we did.”

While the schedule undoubtedly played its part in its struggles, during Rutgers’ six-game winless streak — its worst stretch of the season — three of those losses came against teams the Knights were expected to beat.

Not only that, but those teams all beat Rutgers by a three-goal margin, which does not include a 3-1 loss to Hofstra and 4-1 loss at Ohio State. 

Losing to teams of equal talent or less talent was hard enough for the Knights to endure, but the lopsided aspect of the defeats was most disappointing. 

“Just the individual efforts on the field,” senior midfielder Nate Bruccoleri said of why the team struggled. “Sometimes, I think we lacked the desire and competitive nature that we needed as a team in order to grind out some victories.”

For all the negatives and criticisms the team has experienced this season, the squad still showed promising signs of progress. 

Freshman forward Jason Wright scored a team-leading 10 goals and five assists this year for 25 points, the most for any Rutgers player since Josh Gros collected 37 points in 2003. 

The Knights also ended the year on a positive note with two competitive losses to conference regular season champion Maryland and a 5-2 drubbing of Wisconsin in the conference tournament play-in game.

With Rutgers losing only one starter in Bruccoleri to graduation, Donigan feels the future is bright. 

“I was looking for that kind of a performance from our guys, and they put in back-to-back performances in my opinion. That is how we should have performed throughout the year,” he said. “We obviously didn’t, and therefore, the end result was a losing record, but I think … this [past] weekend tells me they’re seeing the light a little bit, and now, we’ve got to continue to work in this offseason to make progress to not endure this kind of a season again.”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @SeanStewartRU and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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