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Rutgers hosts Ohio State to begin critical home stand

<p>If Rutgers continues to play the way it has been lately, senior defender Brianne Reed believes her team will be in good shape.</p>

If Rutgers continues to play the way it has been lately, senior defender Brianne Reed believes her team will be in good shape.

The No. 25 Rutgers women’s soccer team kicks off its final home stand of the season on Thursday night.

That all starts with a 7 p.m. conference matchup with Ohio State for the Scarlet Knights (10-2-2, 3-2-2). 

At Yurcak field, the Knights boast an unblemished mark of 6-0-1 on the season.

Rutgers has taken advantage of its home crowd's support and familiarity with the field, looking to gain crucial points in the conference standings in its final three home games of the year.

“The next game is always the biggest game for us and we are looking forward to seeing what we can do against Ohio State,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “At this stage of the season, it’s about getting points and the team knows what it has to do. It’s a very big game and we need to continue to get better and keep the standard high.”

The Buckeyes (8-3-3, 3-2-2) come to the Banks tied for fifth in the conference standings with the Knights, making the game even more pivotal for both sides as the regular season winds down.

Rutgers enters the match hoping to turn its recent surplus of shots into goals, which have been hard to come by lately.

After ripping off eight consecutive shutout victories to start the season, the Knights have gone 2-2-2 over their last six games, while only scoring five goals in those games.

They are coming off their two highest shot totals of the season in their last two games over Indiana and Purdue, which should eventually lead to some scoring.

The defense has been nearly impenetrable throughout the season, allowing the offense to come up with more breakaways in recent games than earlier in the season.

Ohio State scored three goals against a Purdue team that shutout Rutgers last week. The Knights know they will have to be equally potent on both sides of the ball to earn the win and three crucial points.

“It’s a natural progression throughout a season to become more of an attacking team as the season goes along,” O’Neill said. “We’ve been working on it and improving our movement on the field, and I believe we will keep creating chances and letting things happen without forcing the issue.”

With this advice coming from the sidelines, it is important to have veteran presences on the field to put these ideas into action.

Senior midfielder Samantha Valliant has scored three game-winning goals this season, proving to be a clutch player when the Knights need it most.

“It’s always easier to play at home than on the road,” she said. “We need to get some momentum going early so that we can gain some confidence and put our game plan into effect.”

The Knights are currently ranked No. 19 in the Soccer America Top 25, and No. 14 in the TopDrawerSoccer.com Top 25.

These rankings give them a good idea as to where they stand in relation to other teams both in the conference and across the country.

Picking up points against Ohio State heading into Sunday’s showdown with No. 9 Penn State could give Rutgers the boost it needs to finish the regular season in strong fashion.

“We’ll be in good shape if we keep playing like we have been for most of this year,” said senior defender Brianne Reed. “Every game is big for us now and we know we have to continue being strong defensively and the goals will come.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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