Rutgers title dreams disappear in College Park
The Rutgers men’s soccer team entered College Park on Wednesday with a chance to make history by becoming the first program in school history to win a Big Ten regular season title in any sport and earn the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
But by the end of the night, the Scarlet Knights returned home thinking about what could have been.
After keeping five clean sheets during a seven-game winning streak, the Knights conceded three goals to Maryland in a 3-1 loss. The win that broke the third longest winning streak in the country was the Terrapins first home win in conference play this season.
“Give credit to Maryland, they played well. They had, I thought, the better of the play in the midfield and we just couldn’t get a hold of the game,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “I didn’t think we played very well on the evening.”
Rutgers (11-5-1, 4-4-0) dug itself into a hole early in the match. Maryland (8-5-4, 2-2-3) opened the scoring 10 minutes into the first half through freshman Eryk Williamson.
Junior goalkeeper David Greczek fully stretched to his left and made perhaps his best save of the season on a header, but the ball remained in play and Williamson was able to put the rebound in the back of the net.
“The worst feeling for a goalie is you make a hell of a save and there’s a rebound and you can’t do much about it,” Greczek said. “Yeah, it would’ve been nice to make the double-save, but I’m not going to reflect on it. You just move forward and next time, I just gotta peg (the shot) away further.”
The Terrapins dominated possession after their first goal and were relentless in their pursuit for the second score.
The persistence paid off in the 22nd minute when Endoh Tsubusa fired a shot some 30 meters away from goal that hit the crossbar and appeared to bounce outside the goal line. Greczek saved a rebound shot and it seemed Rutgers saved itself from danger.
But one of the assistant referees said he saw the ball go over the line and Maryland was awarded its second goal of the evening.
According to the replay of the sequence, the goal was correctly given.
Coming out of the half, the Knights appeared to be mounting a comeback by replicating their second half form. Sophomore forward Miles Hackett pulled Rutgers back a goal two minutes into the second period, redeeming himself after missing two golden opportunities in the final five minutes of the first half.
The comeback was cut short just seven minutes later, however, when Williamson scored his second goal of the night to reestablish the two goal lead his team didn’t relinquish.
Even if the Knights returned to Piscataway with a win, they would not have been crowned Big Ten regular season champions. Ohio State defeated Michigan, 3-1, in Columbus to guarantee the top seed in the conference tournament.
While it doesn't take away the sting from the loss, it gives Rutgers some peace of mind.
“I’d be lying if I said that didn’t feel a little good,” said junior midfielder Erik Sa. “It never feels good to lose to a rival like Maryland, but knowing that we wouldn’t have won the Big Ten, I guess, helps a little. But it’s not like we’re happy about it by any means.”
When everything was said and done in the Big Ten regular season, the Knights finished in fourth place in the conference standings, a steep drop from the second place slot they started the match from.
As a result, Rutgers will host Northwestern on Sunday in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. After a bump in the road against Maryland, the Knights remain confident and expect to return to the win column against the Wildcats.
“We’re going to run into adversity at some point, not everything is going to go well for us, and we knew that. It's not like we expected to lose this game, but we knew adversity was going to come to us.” Sa said. “… We’re very confident in our ability. We think we can play with anybody and I think we proved that this year … we’re going to bounce back Sunday.”
For updates on the Rutgers men's soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.
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