Knights host Michigan team facing similar struggles this season
The previous 4 out of 5 Rutgers men’s soccer games have either been a tie or a loss by only a one-goal difference.
Those games include a 2-1 double-overtime loss to No. 1 Maryland, a scoreless tie against No. 6 Indiana, a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast and a 1-0 loss to Wisconsin.
But closely contested games don’t count as wins and the Scarlet Knights (0-8-1, 0-4-1) find themselves in the basement of the Big Ten Conference.
One team close to Rutgers in the standings is Michigan, but it also does not sport a record that shows how close its contests have been.
The Wolverines scrimmaged two competitive teams before the season even started. A 0-0 tie against then No. 19 USF and a 2-2 tie against Florida Gulf Coast gave Michigan some hope before starting its official schedule.
But a quick loss to Columbia and a tie to Yale in the Labor Tournament they hosted would only foreshadow a struggling season.
Michigan would then go on to lose five straight games by a deficit of two goals or less until capturing its previous two wins against Detroit and Penn State.
Head coach Dan Donigan said he knows Michigan is thinking the same thing as the Knights — they should capitalize on a weaker team.
“They’re looking at us like we’re struggling, we’re not getting the results (and) we haven’t gotten a win yet," Donigan said. "They're certainly struggling as well, but for me, we're gonna continue to do the things we’ve been doing. Our group knows that they deserve the better results.”
The better results Donigan referred to may have gone in his team's favor if it wasn’t for the six top-25 opponents Rutgers has faced. Friday marks the first time this season that the Knights will face a non-ranked opponent in back-to-back games.
A winless record owned by Rutgers could discourage any team away from competing at its best. But in the Knights' case, no one is doing so.
Everyone on the team realizes there are still three more Big Ten games left, which means a possibility of nine points when the season is all said and done.
“(The goal this weekend is) absolutely bringing away three points,” said junior forward Ryan Peterson. “Just because we’re on a little bit of a bump or a bad stretch doesn’t mean we’re gonna throw in the towel. We have plenty of more games to come away with valuable points and be a contender in the Big Ten Conference. We’re not gonna shy away from any team, but we definitely wanna bring home three points against Michigan.”
One huge obstacle Rutgers will be confronted with is Wolverines junior goalkeeper Evan Louro.
Louro is tied for third in the Big Ten in shutouts with three and is also fifth in the conference in save percentage with a .729. He has also played the most games out of anyone ranked higher in any of those statistics.
The Knights have only scored seven total goals this season in nine games, so although it will be challenging the key to Friday’s game will be a good mentality for the team.
“Honestly, I think right now the best thing is to work on our mindset,” said junior forward Dante Perez. “We’re 0-8-1, (and) nobody’s happy about that. I just think we need to stay focused and keep working and keep grinding.”
With the team still winless though nine games, the morale is still the same. Although the team feels the repercussions from failing to accomplish any wins thus far, Donigan is still proud of his team and assures the teams state is fine.
“The mood is fine to be honest, I’m really proud of the guys,” Donigan said. “It’s so easy to be upset, embarrassed and frustrated. Don’t get me wrong we’re human we feel those emotions. But we keep going as a group, we keep fighting. Look I said ‘you guys are the best 0-8-1 team I’ve ever seen.’ We gotta suck it up come to training again and regroup for the game against Michigan this weekend.”
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