An early goal from No. 20 Denver dooms No. 25 Rutgers to a second straight loss

For the second time this weekend, the No. 25 Rutgers men's soccer team found itself on the losing side of a match against a ranked opponent, dropping tightly contested match against No. 20 Denver by a score of 1-0 at Yurcak Field on Sunday.

Pioneers’ midfielder Alex Underwood was able to slither the ball into the Scarlet Knights' net two minutes into the contest, enough to sink the home side. The Knights fall to 0-2 with the loss.

“You can’t give up those goals,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “I’ve been in this game a long time and you can’t give up an early goal. They're gonna hit the wall, which they absolutely did because that’s just the circumstances surrounding this game. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalize and we weren’t able to get behind them."

Denver controlled the ball most of the first half looking to gain some insurance, but senior goalkeeper David Greczek was able to fight off the shots and make two saves in the first half.

Junior midfielder Miles Hackett had two shots on goal in the first half, both of which would be denied by Pioneers’ goalkeeper Nick Gardner.

Hackett’s first attempt came in the 29th minute when he fell short in trying to find the left side of the net. 

Hackett was then denied again as the Denver goalkeeper saved a shot from the right post in the 33rd minute. Hackett had a rebound poised to put the Knights tied at one a piece but the shot was deflected by the Pioneers’ defense.

“They’re a very organized team,” Hackett said on why his team could not put one in net. “They communicated well and defended as a team.”

Junior midfielder Ahmad Faheem had all of Yurcak Field on their feet as he shot from 17 yards out on a scramble in the box, but the shot would be blocked again by Denver’s defense.

When Donigan’s squad entered the locker room at halftime, the momentum they garnered towards the end of the half made them believe they were the better team.

But Denver’s smart play and maturity showed throughout the second half as it managed to hold off a Rutgers onslaught to maintain their slim advantage.

“Our guys felt we were the better team,” Donigan said. “But again, that’s what good teams do. They manage it, they figure it out, and they did what they had to do early on. (Denver) capitalized on a great opportunity a minute and a half into the game and that was the match. Unfortunately you play 90 but sometimes it only takes a minute and a half.”

The Knights possessed the ball for the majority of the second half but just could not find any gaps to cross or score.

Junior forward Jason Wright had an opportunity with a free kick from 20 yards out, but the shot was stopped by Denver’s defense.

The Pioneers’ led the way with shots in the second period, 4-2, as their late four attempts were denied.

The two shots that Wright, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, mustered up were inconsequential as he was swarmed with coverage throughout the whole 90 minutes.

“It’s been difficult,” Wright said. “Whenever the ball plays into me, it attracts a lot of players. So definitely so far it’s been difficult to actually make a significant impact for the team. It’s definitely on me to go to the drawing board, do something different and try to make a more significant impact.”

Up next for the Scarlet Knights are two ranked road games.

On Friday, Rutgers will travel to South Carolina to try and take down the No. 24 ranked Gamecocks, who suffered a 2-1 loss to No. 3 Clemson Friday.

On Sunday, Rutgers will then travel to No. 22 Charlotte to square up with their fourth ranked opponent of the season.

Although the Knights have dropped to 0-2, Donigan doesn’t seem to be worried about what will unfold these next couple weeks against top competition.

“We're battle tested now,” Donigan said. “We know we can compete, we feel good about the game that we played, we just didn’t get the result. That’s soccer, it happens, so you can’t let that have a negative affect on you. You gotta move forward and have a positive mindset and we just have to rejuvenate now.”

For updates on the Rutgers men's soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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