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Rutgers hosts Columbia on Senior Night

<p>Freshman Tim McQuaid looks to honor the seniors during Senior Night with a strong performance against Columbia Tuesday. Eight seniors will be honored as Rutgers continues the pursuit&nbsp;for its first win.</p>

Freshman Tim McQuaid looks to honor the seniors during Senior Night with a strong performance against Columbia Tuesday. Eight seniors will be honored as Rutgers continues the pursuit for its first win.

Tuesday marks senior night for the Rutgers men’s soccer team, but a more important issue looms larger. 

Through 14 games this season, the Scarlet Knights (0-12-2) have yet to win, and there are only two regular season games and one guaranteed Big Ten Tournament game remaining on the slate.

The Knights have seen their fair share of ranked opponents, top goalkeepers, tough road venues and in-state rivals. But the team visiting Yurcak Field on Tuesday night may have the best keeper that Rutgers has seen all season long.

Columbia junior Dylan Castanheira is top in the Ivy League in three categories, including goals-against-average (.56), save percentage (.824) and the least amount of goals allowed (3) this season.

The Knights will also face a daunting task as they face a Lions excels in a statistic that has been Rutgers' kryptonite during the 2016 campaign.

This season, Columbia has scored seven goals in the first halves of their matches, a period Rutgers leads the Big Ten in goals conceded with 19.

But the Knights will come out of the gates on Tuesday night with a little more pep in their step. It’s senior night and Rutgers wants to send its seniors off with not only a win, but also with momentum heading into the Big Ten Tournament.

“Being senior night has a lot of impact for us because we wanna play really well for the seniors,” said freshman defender Tim McQuaid. “We just wanna get some momentum going into the Big Ten Tournament. Starting on Tuesday against Columbia will be a good way to give our seniors a win and then also give ourselves some momentum going into the postseason.”

The Lions will be the 12th team over the .500 mark that the Knights will be facing. 

Columbia has earned key wins over Michigan, Monmouth and a 2-1 overtime win over Princeton, putting it squarely in third place in the Ivy League.

But like his players, head coach Dan Donigan is looking at the bigger picture. 

Donigan said after Friday’s heartbreaking loss to Penn State that a win over Columbia would be "awesome," but getting his players' minds right and keeping his team healthy for the postseason is where his focus is right now.

“Look, we wanna win every time we step on the field,” Donigan said. “It’s not gonna affect much (more) than our psyche. If you can get that win against a very good Columbia team, it’s a reward for us, (a) physiological boost. There are a lot of positives you can take from it, but if you lose the game, look, these guys have lost many games this year. Our main focus now is gonna be to try to stay as healthy as we can play, play as consistent as we can and if a win comes along, that’s great. If it doesn’t, our focus obviously is the next game.”

Take away the NJIT and the Princeton game, and this Rutgers squad has been competitive in all of the games it has played in since the end of September. 

The team went from not scoring a goal in the first four games to scoring a goal in five out of their last six games, showing a character trait that essential for competition — resilience.

A team that still hasn’t acquired its first win through 14 games this season seems to be playing at its best. And even though the win hasn’t come through solid play all year long, junior forward Dante Perez said he believes his team's mindset does not need to be altered, but could use some grit.

“At this point, I think the most important thing for us is just to go out there and have fun and work for each other," Perez said. "I don’t think our mindset needs to change because I think we’ve been playing pretty well lately. I think we just need to keep moving, just keep going, keep going.”

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

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