Rutgers set to host No. 13 Michigan State in Big Ten opener

Coming off a successful streak that included both a win and tie on the road last weekend, the Rutgers men’s soccer team looks to carry that momentum into this weekend.

Friday night at 7 p.m., the Scarlet Knights (1-2-1) will play in their Big Ten opener at Yurcak Field, where they will face No. 13 Michigan State (4-0-0). This game will be the first of three straight Big Ten conference games for Rutgers.

Last weekend, the Knights flew out to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they faced off again Oral Roberts on Friday night. After picking up a 5-3 win, the team traveled down four hours to Kansas City, Missouri, and played its second game in three days against UMKC. Rutgers and UMKC both struggled to make things happen on the field, and the final result was a double overtime draw at 0-0.

“The guys are feeling good about themselves,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “We’ve got a lot of new, young guys that have really done a nice job. They’ve been battling and really working hard for our team right now, and even though they are young, they’re getting seasoned pretty quick.”

The Spartans continue their march up the rankings, as they sit at No. 22 in the country, while now just four wins later, they are just three spots from the top-10.

Michigan State captured back to back 1-0 victories at home in East Lansing, Michigan. The team faced off against Dartmouth and Cleveland State in a four-day span, keeping its perfect record intact for the upcoming matchup against the Knights.

“I think we will be ready for them,” said junior goalkeeper Rafael Pereira. “We had a really successful weekend and we already know what it takes to get a win this early on in the season. But even with the confidence, we still have things to work on.”

This weekend’s matchup will mark the fourth straight year Rutgers and Michigan State have faced each other. After meeting twice in East Lansing and once in Piscataway, the Spartans lead the series with two wins and a draw, including a 4-0 win at home.

In a similar affair to last weekend’s game against UMKC, the Knights and Spartans ended their first Big Ten matchup against each other tied 0-0 after two overtimes, back in 2014 at DeMartin Soccer Stadium.

When Michigan State came to Piscataway in 2015, both teams were able to put goals on the board, but the Spartans were too much for Rutgers that day and prevailed 3-1. Then-freshman and current junior Miles Hackett scored the lone goal for the Knights.

In last year’s Big Ten opener, Rutgers seemed to be hanging in with Michigan State, only being down 1-0 at half time. But, the Spartans scored 3 goals in the second half and shut Rutgers out for the game. 

Overall, in Big Ten play last season, the Knights struggled. In eight games across the season, they went 0-6-2 and lost in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.

“The last couple of games have showed that we are already improving,” said fifth-year senior forward Ethan Vanacore-Decker. “We’re getting some good reps in at practice for Friday and hopefully be able to give Michigan State a beating.”

Vanacore-Decker leads the team in points, goals and is tied in assists so far in the early season for Rutgers. He currently has five points off 2 goals and an assist, all from the team's win over Oral Roberts.

Senior midfielder Dante Perez, senior defender Niel Guzman, fifth-year senior Erik Sa and freshman defender Vincent Borden have each contributed a goal for the Scarlet Knights this season, with Perez also adding an assist to his stat line.

“It’s going to be a big game this weekend,” Vanacore-Decker said.

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

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