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Controversial penalty ends Rutgers' season

<p>Senior midfielder Nate Bruccoleri played in his final game as a member of the men’s soccer team in the Knights’ 2-0 loss at Maryland. </p>

Senior midfielder Nate Bruccoleri played in his final game as a member of the men’s soccer team in the Knights’ 2-0 loss at Maryland. 

Facing No. 17 Maryland on the road Sunday at Ludwig Field less than a day removed from its win against Wisconsin was expected to be an uphill battle for the Rutgers men’s soccer team.

But as long as the score remained tied, a chance for an upset much like the Scarlet Knights pulled last year when they defeated top-seeded Louisville in the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament remained a possibility.

Then the penalty kick happened. 

With just over 13 minutes remaining in the first half, Maryland forward Alex Shinsky was taken down in the box by a slide tackle from sophomore defender Spencer Hambleton who appeared to get the ball.

Despite Rutgers’ pleas, the ref awarded the penalty kick, and midfielder Mael Corboz, like he did against his former team last Wednesday at Yurcak Field, delivered the opening blow for his team-leading ninth goal of the season (five of which have been from the penalty spot).

Though far from outmatched, the Knights struggled to get much going in the attack before the Terrapins (12-5-2) delivered the final dagger in the 75th minute to clinch the game, 2-0, and effectively end Rutgers’ (6-12-1) season and Big Ten Tournament run.

“We were fortunate to be able to do it last year and come away with two great results, but this year, against a very quality opponent in Maryland, on the second day, it’s tough,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “And certainly [fatigue] probably factors in a little bit, but also, I think the penalty kick call that was awarded was really unfortunate for our guys. … I just thought it was really unlucky for us to have had that called against us.”

Even after conceding that devastating first goal after 30-plus minutes of intense play, it was hard to think the Knights were out of the game.

After all, this was the team that demolished the Badgers, 5-2, the day before and was given the added boost of having junior forward J.P. Correa as an option off the bench.

But the Knights lacked energy and crispness going forward, with heavy legs from less than a day’s rest appearing to take its toll.

Although fatigue certainly played its part, senior midfielder Nate Bruccoleri said it never crossed their minds entering the game.

“We put ourselves in that type of situation,” he said. “We finished eighth, so we had to play in the play-in game. We knew that we were going into that type of situation if we won, so that mentality wasn’t in any of our mindsets.”

Maryland’s defense was also responsible for the difficulties the Knights had with creating anything going forward offensively. 

Unlike against Wisconsin where Rutgers had plenty of time and space to dribble at defenders, the Terrapins swarmed the ball in pairs of twos and threes, which clogged passing lanes and forced numerous over-the-top clearances that Maryland consistently collected.

When in the attack, the Terrapins’ outside backs would push forward as if they were wingers, pinning the Knights back into their defensive third and leaving freshman forward Jason Wright as the only outlet to relieve pressure. 

“They’re a very good team tactically. They’re always in good position, [and] they don’t really allow too many outbreaks,” said sophomore midfielder Erik Sa. “You’re almost never free, and when you are, they have some pretty athletic guys in there that can close you down pretty quickly.”

With Maryland pushing so many numbers forward, Rutgers’ best chances came off the counter attack when Wright was able to hold up the ball.

Those moments were few and far between but did create Rutgers’ best opportunity to score when Wright managed to wriggle past his defenders and feed the overlapping Bruccoleri whose shot was saved well by the charging goalkeeper, Zach Steffen. 

The Terrapins scored their second goal of the game about 20 minutes later when right back Jereme Raley overlapped down the right flank and delivered a cross right into the path of forward George Campbell, who scored inside the 18-yard box for his fourth goal in five games.

The Knights were outshot, 13-4, by the game’s end for their lowest shot total of the season, testing Steffen only two times.

Although Rutgers did not end the season as it would have liked, losing to the Big Ten regular season champion and a team that has now won nine straight games has the Knights keeping their heads held high.

“The last game I played at Yurcak, I lost to Maryland. The last game I played college soccer, I lost at Maryland,” Bruccoleri said. “Obviously, I would have wanted to win both of those games, but at the same time, it’s not like we lost to a bad team or that we played badly. We were playing against one of the best programs nationally known throughout the country … and I think that’s something to be proud of.” 

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

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