Rutgers falls to in-state rivals Princeton, remains winless
The Rutgers men’s soccer team took a break from the gauntlet that is Big Ten play to host an out-of-conference opponent and in-state rival in Princeton.
The Scarlet Knights entered the match coming off a 1-1 draw with Michigan Friday, the best result of a winless first 10 matches of the season, holding some form of momentum for one of the few times this year.
But despite the momentum being on their side in an emotional battle for in-state bragging rights, the Knights were unable to get the monkey off their back as they fell to the Tigers Tuesday night, 4-1, to remain without a win with five games remaining in the regular season.
“It’s just very disheartening, very disappointing,” said head coach Dan Donigan on the loss. “Give credit to Princeton, they came out and they worked hard.
The match started in a similar fashion to Rutgers’ most recent non-conference matchup prior to Tuesday, though to a smaller extent. Rather than falling behind 5-0 within 17 minutes like they did to No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast two weeks ago, the Knights hung on until the 19th minute until suffering the first goal.
Sean McSherry opened the scoring for Princeton (6-4-1, 0-1-1) with a curling left-footed effort that slipped right past senior goalkeeper David Greczek and just inside the far post to guarantee another game in which Rutgers (0-9-2, 0-4-2) would not take the first lead.
Greczek made four saves in the first half — two coming before the opening goal, two coming after — but he was unable to stop the period that changed the match.
The Knights have yet to lead a match all season and their hopes of doing it Tuesday night grew slimmer when the Tigers notched 2 goals in two minutes a half-hour into the contest.
First it was Vikram Pothuri who doubled Princeton’s lead with an acrobatic volley in the home team’s 18-yard box, flying in to connect with Jeremy Colvin’s cross. Pothuri was followed up Harry Hefferman, whose rebound shot into an empty net wasn’t as pretty but was the final step in creating an insurmountable lead.
“Look, for me, they’re no better than us, but they played us off the field in the first half,” Donigan said. “By that point, you try to come out in the second half and I thought we had a bit of a response, we get a goal back, but then the game kind of went back to what it was in the first half again and we didn’t have enough.”
Rutgers pulled back a goal 10 minutes into the second half, with junior midfielder Dante Perez reaggravating an injury he picked up a couple minutes earlier with his third goal of the campaign.
Perez would come off and not return to action following the goal just as senior defender Tyler Morris did due to a shoulder injury in the first half prior to Princeton’s two goal onslaught, a continuation of the injury struggles the Knights have suffered through all season.
“Dante took a pretty bad knock when he scored that goal, but the reality of it is he’s on four yellow cards and he’s got a bad knock, the game’s 3-1 … I don’t want to jeopardize his health,” Donigan said. “Same thing with Tyler Morris … there’s no point in jeopardizing him because if I asked him, I’m sure that kid would go back in the game.”
The Knights had 35 minutes to score 2 goals, a more manageable comeback than the one 5-goal turnaround they almost managed against the Eagles. But just like that night two weeks ago, Rutgers was unable to pull it off, sending cross after cross into the penalty area that were left unanswered.
With 10 minutes to go, any hopes of getting a result were killed as Greg Seifert headed home a pass from Benjamin Martin to put up the fourth and final Tiger goal and seal the final result.
Rutgers has little more than pride to play for in its final five games of the season, the best possible finish in the Big Ten coming in the form of a fifth place finish in the regular season and seed in the conference tournament.
Hosting Northwestern Saturday will be their next opportunity to get on the right track.
“We only have a two-day break before we have to come back out here to play another tough game against Northwestern on Friday,” Donigan said. “So we just gotta focus on that and not worry about the fact that we haven’t even won a game yet. We just gotta think about Friday right now and that’s it.”