Akron explodes for 6 goals as Rutgers season ends
The No. 23 Rutgers men’s soccer team felt as if it was reliving 2011 when the NCAA Tournament bracket was released last week.
Just like the last time they participated in the competition, the Scarlet Knights hosted — and won — the first round match against an opponent they were expected to defeat before traveling to a fourth-seed hoping to turn some heads with an upset.
But instead of repeating the success of the past when they defeated fourth-seeded Boston College in a penalty shootout, the Knights (13-7-2, 4-4-0) returned home for the final time in 2015.
Rutgers was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament after suffering a 6-1 pummeling at the hands of fourth-seeded Akron on Sunday afternoon in its second trip to Ohio of the season. It suffered a 4-0 loss to Ohio State in Columbus in the semifinal of the Big Ten Tournament last weekend.
The Knights got off to a slow start and weren’t able to dig themselves out of the hole. By the 18th minute, they were down by a deficit of 5-0.
Not wanting to make excuses, head coach Dan Donigan acknowledged that the 110 minutes of action in the mud from his team's 3-2 penalty shootout win over LIU Brooklyn Thursday night took its toll.
"I'm not making excuses by any means because my hats off to Akron, they are an exceptional soccer team and they play great football ... (but) I wish maybe we had a little more opportunity coming into this game but our match on Thursday night took a little out of our guys and I think it certainly showed.
The Zips (15-3-2, 4-0-1) opened the scoring in the fifth minute from the penalty spot. Victor Soupo made no mistake from 11 meters, slotting the ball into the upper left corner of David Greczek’s goal as he dove to the right.
The junior goalkeeper finished the contest with six saves, but there was nothing he could do in the opening 20 minutes as Akron rolled over the Knights' backline with clever runs and incisive passing.
Forward Brian Hawkins had a chance to equalize shortly after the goal. The freshman did well to control the ball in the Zips penalty area, choosing to cut inside and shoot, but his shot was deflected out for a corner.
Any hopes Rutgers had of recovering from the early deficit were killed between the 12th and 13th minute as Akron scored twice in 27 seconds through Stuart Holthusen and Richie Laryea to build its lead to 3-0.
Two more goals from Holthusen and Laryea in the 16th and 17th minute completed the most dominant period any team has had against the Knights all season. Rutgers allowed more goals in first 20 minutes than it has in any other game this season.
"It's really hard as a coach," Donigan said of the 20 minute stretch. "You just accept it for what it is and you play with pride and play with passion and some heart. But tonight, it was Akron's game. They were exceptional in every facet of the game."
The offensive pressure from the Zips did not stop despite the large lead. Akron continued to dictate the game, leading to frustration for the Knights.
Rutgers was aggressive on defense, making a number of harsh tackles in trying to recover the ball, but Akron was not affected.
The second half was played more out of obligation than necessity as the game was already resolved after the first 45 minutes.
Sean Sepe put the exclamation mark on the most emphatic win his team has had all season — the Zips scored four goals four times during the year but never surpassed it until Sunday — in the 60th minute.
Freshman forward Sugor Al Awwad scored the Knights’ only goal in the 80th minute, but it was nothing more than a consolation point as the final minutes of Rutgers' season ticked away.
The loss ends one of the best seasons on the Banks in recent memory.
After finishing second-to-last in the Big Ten in their first season in the conference, the Knights fought until the last game day for a regular season title, ending up in fourth place when all was said and done. Rutgers advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals for the first time in program history as well.
The Knights’ seven-game winning streak earlier in the season was the longest such streak since 1997. They held eight clean sheets throughout the season, the most for Rutgers since 1998.
While he wishes the season would've ended differently, Donigan is still filled with pride because of what his team produced over the course of 2015.
"I'm still very proud of my team. I thought, overall we had a great season. There was only 32 teams playing in the tournament today and we were one of them. Unfortunately, to go out like this isn't your ideal scenario, but I still hold my head up and my chest out and I'm very, very proud of my guys and what they've done for Rutgers University."
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