Rutgers aspire to clean slate as Big Ten play begins against Michigan State
After starting the season winless in its first three matches, the Rutgers men’s soccer team looks to rebound from its most recent hangover, and capture its first win of the 2016 campaign as it travels to East Lansing to face Michigan State (2-1).
Along with the top opponents in the Big Ten conference, the Scarlet Knights (0-3) have been dealt a hand that not too many teams have experienced this season so far.
No. 14 Creighton defeated Rutgers in its opener by a score of 2-0, No. 11 Denver scored early and played good defense all game to hand the Knights their second loss of the season and No. 9 Charlotte pushed Rutgers to 0-3 in dominating fashion with a 5-0 win.
While the Spartans have only played three games as well, one win is a clear statement that they can play with and take down the top teams in the country as they took down No. 25 SMU on the road in their season opener.
Though playing a tough schedule that is only going to get more difficult, the Knights feel they can compete with any team in the country if their energy and competitiveness become more refined.
“I think we obviously know we're not playing anywhere near our potential,” said senior midfielder Ross Tetro. “I think it's more energy wise and competitiveness right now. We can compete with anyone in the country, we have a good enough team where we should be able to play against these teams and win games as we’ve done in the past.”
In the three games Rutgers has played this season, the Knights have struggled to score any goals and have been outshot 47 to 17.
But, with their first conference game looming, Rutgers can start a new slate, win in the Big Ten and the slow start can be overshadowed.
"If you can do well within the conference, you can put yourself in a very good position," said head coach Dan Donigan. "We’re in a very good situation in terms of the strength of our schedule and the opportunities we have every game. Even though we dropped the first three games against top-25 teams, we still have a tremendous Michigan State team looking us in the face ... So it’s a great opportunity in front of us. Although were 0-3, we can turn this thing around very quick.”
Turning it around quick would be a huge help for the struggling Knights and its looking realistic as they enter conference play — four out of the nine Big Ten teams are below the .500 mark, while three teams are eye-level with it.
With their first Big Ten game coming up on Friday, senior goalkeeper David Greczek isn’t buying into the slow start.
As long as his team brings their best game, there’s no reason the Knights can’t upstart this season and mirror last season's success.
Last year's team, which reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, didn’t start the season on fire either, as a 2-2-1 start turned into a 12-7-2 finish for Rutgers.
“No one thinks we're falling apart or have a poor mentality,” Greczek said. “You gotta move past it. I’m sure the guys are gonna bring it. I’m gonna make sure I’m on top of my game and the leadership is there. We gotta make sure we have a positive mentality. There’s still a bunch of games left, we're still in the running, it's not like anything devastating happened. We got a conference game against Michigan State, so we're just gonna bring it to them and try to get momentum from there and move forward.”
Last year’s matchup between the Spartans and Knights was won in favor of Michigan State in a 3-1 win in Piscataway.
Donigan mentioned that last year has zero significance in this year’s game approach.
So far, this season has been rough for Rutgers, but as the season progresses, the maturity will need to as well. With a stacked schedule, the Knights cannot take their foot of the gas or contemplate taking it easy on any team.
“I just think it’s the understanding and acknowledgement that every game you gotta come to compete and perform,” Donigan said. “We have to have maturity about ourselves as we go through this difficult schedule. It’s a maturity process and acknowledgment that we have to come and perform every day with the schedule and the league we're in. There’s no time to take your foot off the gas because we can’t afford it.”
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