Rutgers eyes second consecutive win
The Rutgers men’s soccer team seeks to continue its recent form when it hosts Big Ten foe Michigan State on Friday night at Yurcak Field.
The Scarlet Knights (3-2-1, 1-1-0) welcome the Spartans (3-3-1, 0-0-1) to Piscataway after their strongest performance of the season — a 4-1 upset of No. 22 Indiana in Bloomington.
The margin of victory would surprise anyone who has been following the Knights this season. The team from the Banks struggled to finish the multitude of chances they have created in the couple of games prior to facing the Hoosiers (4-3-1, 0-2.)
Soccer is a sport where teams that dominate don’t win unless they finish their chances, but a bit of luck could go a long way.
“That’s just the game. Sometimes you get the lucky bounce and the fortunate opportunity and against Indiana, we did,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “You’ve gotta stay patient and be relentless and keep trying to create those chances and hopefully the breaks will come.”
Donigan believes the convincing win over Indiana will allow his team to be more decisive in its opponents' penalty area, but doesn’t negate the possibility of Rutgers being unlucky.
“Again, it’s game-to-game, to be honest. We can have another game like we had against Monmouth or Wisconsin against Michigan State,” he said. “But you hope you get the lucky bounce or the fortunate break and you get those chances and you score the goals and you finish plays.”
While the win provides a huge boost in morale to the team, the Knights are not satisfied with it and continue to work toward improvement.
“It’s college soccer, no one’s perfect,” said junior midfielder Erik Sa. “You could beat Indiana and come out and not play so well. But we’re training and everybody’s taking it serous to get ready for Friday night.”
Michigan State has plenty of reasons to be confident that it will bring the Knights back to their form from Rutgers' last match at Yurcak against Wisconsin.
The Spartans have only conceded six goals in seven games thus far this season, four coming in their last outing against No. 14 Notre Dame at DeMartin Stadium in East Lansing.
All their losses have come against ranked opponents. Their first loss was against No. 13 Oregon State in Corvallis by a score of 1-0, followed by another 1-0 loss, this time to No. 1 Creighton and finally, against the Fighting Irish last Tuesday, also in East Lansing by a score of 4-0.
While Sparty isn't ranked currently, Michigan State is recognized as a top team. The Spartans received 12 votes in the latest National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, dropping out of the top 25 after being ranked as high as No. 9 earlier in the season.
Aware of its visitors’ stingy back line and physical nature, Rutgers is prepared to face yet another physical conference opponent.
“They’re always a big, strong, tough, physical team. They don’t let up any goals,” said senior center back Drew Morgan. “They were kind of the same way last year and we tied them 0-0, so it’s gonna be a tough team to score on.”
The Atlanta, Georgia, native is confident in his teammates and predicts a win for the home side on Friday if the Knights can replicate their recent performances.
“They’re a physical, typical Big Ten kind of team,” Morgan said. “But if we play soccer the way we have been the last two or three games, then we’ll be fine. Hopefully we can keep playing the way we’ve been playing and come out with a win.”
With two different teams playing in the red and grey stripes of the Knights as of late, fans will wonder which one will come out Friday night under the lights of Yurcak Field.
The players who don the stripes have no doubts.
“The one against Indiana, for sure,” Sa said of which team he expects to show up tonight. “Like I said, we’re going to come out here and train and prepare. Michigan State is a very good opponent, we played them last year tough and they’ve got some new pieces of their puzzle this year, but we’re gonna be ready to go.”
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