Sluggish start dooms Rutgers in conference contest
Sometimes teams find themselves in holes that they can't dig themselves out of.
The Rutgers men’s soccer team found itself in that situation last Friday night. The Scarlet Knights (3-3-1, 1-1-0) conceded two goals in the opening seven minutes and were unable to dig themselves out of the early deficit, eventually suffering a 3-1 defeat to visiting Michigan State.
The Spartans (4-3-1, 1-0-1) took advantage of the sluggish start from the Knights and never looked back.
“Disappointed with the start. First five minutes, you can’t give up those opportunities,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “Give Michigan State credit, they capitalized on those chances. You're down 2-0 against a good team. No matter if you’re at home or on the road, doesn’t really make a difference, so that was unfortunate.”
Rutgers pulled a goal back seven minutes later through Miles Hackett. His tally put him atop the Knights list of goal-scorers this season (4), but the sophomore forward would’ve traded it in for a win at the end of the night.
“Clearly, yeah, obviously wins are more important than goals, for me at least,” he said.
The consolation goal displayed the resilience shown by the Knights following their guests’ strong start, but they were unable to equalize during a period where they controlled the match and created an abundance of goal-scoring opportunities.
When Michigan State scored its third and final goal of the evening, Rutgers had no response.
“I thought we played well the rest of the half and even portions of the second half and then we just ran out of gas, especially after they got that third goal, the insurance goal,” Donigan said. “That kind of killed the game.”
While he does give his opponents credit for their ability to take advantage of his team’s mistakes, junior goalkeeper David Greczek was clearly not happy with the final score and feels that the opening few minutes were unacceptable.
“Obviously, disappointment on the scoreboard,” the Fairfield, New Jersey, native said. “Unfortunately, (the) first five minutes killed us. We tried to bounce back, we got one goal back, got a little momentum but we just couldn’t put it in the back of the net and slowly dismantled. I give credit to Michigan State. They play fast out of the back and we just weren’t alert enough. It’s unacceptable. Guys aren’t tuned in at moments and that’s something we have to eliminate because like you saw today, it cost us two goals and it cost us the game.”
The defeat comes after a series of promising on-field displays from the Knights, with their most recent performance being the 4-1 upset win over then-No. 22 Indiana. The match against the Spartans raises questions of inconsistency in the Rutgers squad.
“Disappointed with our inconsistent performance,” Donigan said. “I thought the last three games, we played really well. This game, I give Michigan State more credit than anything, but I thought they kinda took a lot of wind out of our sails and that was not a good response from our team so I’m a little bit concerned with that.”
Despite his team appearing to be the better team for a good portion of the match, evidenced by its overwhelming edge in both shots (14-10) and corners (12-1), Donigan believes the final result was fair based on what was produced throughout the 90 minutes by both teams.
“I do (think the result is fair), to be honest with you,” Donigan said. “That’s the game of soccer. You go up, 2-0, the team that’s up tends to sit back and manage the game a bit. To some extent, I think that’s what Michigan State did. We got a goal that made it 2-1 but unfortunately, we didn’t get that tying goal before the half. I think that could’ve made the difference.”
The sixth-year head coach will have some thinking to do in the next few days as his team prepares for its next match against Loyola on Tuesday but he continues to have faith that his players will be able to bounce back.
“For whatever reason, we just ran out of gas, so we have to look into that," Donigan said. "Maybe we need to go a bit deeper with our personnel, but we’ll figure it out. Again, I’m confident with this team that we can go out and be able to perform again on Tuesday night.”
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