Rutgers faces Michigan in Big Ten Tournament play-in game with season on line
Win or go home.
That’s the motto for the Rutgers men’s soccer team heading into what could be their last game of the season. The Scarlet Knights (1-13-2) will play Michigan (3-10-4) in the play-in game of the Big Ten Tournament that will decide who makes it into the quarterfinals against the No. 1 team in the country – Maryland.
The Wolverines and Rutgers met earlier this season, but no team was victorious. After the Knights tied the game in the 37th minute, the game went the full 110 minutes until a draw was declared.
But on Saturday, there will be no draw – a win needs to be accomplished, and Rutgers is coming in with one mindset – that it’s a must win game.
“I don’t think it’s a regular game and I don’t think it’s a game we’re looking for revenge,” said senior goalkeeper David Greczek. “I think that we’re coming with a mindset that it needs to be a win (and) it needs to be a result.”
Following their first win of the season, that took them 1,450 total minutes of action to achieve, the Knights look to extend their winning streak into the weekend.
Rutgers, a team that garners the No. 2 goalkeeper in the country in saves (96), will be faced with a tough task.
Michigan striker Francis Atuahene leads the Big Ten in shots (64) and shots per game (4.27). His playing style, an almost mirror image of Knights forward Jason Wright, may cause problems for Rutgers.
His incredible speed and strength can trigger defensive lapses and multiple goals. But head coach Dan Donigan knows the opponent and is preparing his team not only to work on defensive origination, but also to focus in on it during the week of preparation.
“I think the general stuff, organization on, restarts and set pieces and things like that, our general shape defensively,” Donigan said when asked what he will have his team working on this week. “I think that’s mostly what we wanna do, we really wanna focus in on defending and organization. And then obviously when we look at personnel, obviously they have Atuahene and a couple other guys that we need to be concerned about. I can tell our guys are very excited about it, they knew from day one that we we're always gonna have this chance in the post season, and that always lingered in their minds and now we're here.”
Even with the Wolverines coming off an impressive performance Saturday where they took No. 1 Maryland into double-overtime, losing the game 3-2, Wright believes his team knows Michigan well and will trust his team's playing ability rather than studying the Wolverines.
“We know them, pretty much,” Wright said. “It’s not a lot of homework to do on them.”
Donigan shared similar thoughts after Saturday's win against Bradley – they know the competition, now its just focusing on recovery and getting to work.
“Look, we’ve played them before, we kinda know what the matchups are,” Donigan said. “We know what their strengths and weaknesses are, we’re just gonna again get our recovery, and then we’ll get back after it to prepare for Michigan.”
Saturday is like judgment day for the Knights. Play with fire and win, and move on. Fail to accomplish a win, and go home. But right now the real slogan for the Rutgers men’s soccer team is hunger. And like a stray animal that hasn’t eaten in days, these dogs are hungry.
“I’m sure the guys have the right mindset going into practice this week,” Greczek said. “It’s nice we got a win under our belt, but we’re just gonna be hungry. It’s more about hunger and getting that win and we can make a statement.”
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