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Rutgers looks to upset Wisconsin in Big Ten Championships quarterfinals

The Rutgers men’s soccer team hopes to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament, as it travels to Madison, Wis. to take on Wisconsin in a conference quarterfinals match.

The No. 7 seeded-Scarlet Knights (4-12-1, 2-6) have fallen in the tournament’s first round the past two years and have a chance to break that streak against the No. 2-seeded Badgers (9-5-2, 6-2) Sunday afternoon. 

The last time these two teams met in the regular season, Rutgers dropped a 4-2 decision at McClimon Track/Soccer Complex on the road in early October. In that game, junior forward Jordan Hall netted the only goals for the team. 

The Knights hope Hall can continue his impressive performance into the postseason tournament. The Manchester, England native claimed the Big Ten regular season scorer’s title, netting 13 goals and ended the season as the points leader, as well. He also finished second in shots (59).

Rutgers was shutout last weekend at Penn State in a match where it outshot its opponent 10-9. Hall contributed almost half of the team’s shots with four attempts. 

Senior goalkeeper Rafael Pereira has been a force between the pipes and has stepped up to make high quality saves in recent games. He repeats for the second consecutive season as the Big Ten’s save leader with 67 total saves. 

The Badgers defeated a visiting Ohio State in overtime last Sunday. Forward Andrew Akindele scored the golden goal with less than 2 minutes remaining in double overtime. The victory over the Buckeyes gave the program its most Big Ten wins in a single season. 

Akindele, a freshman, has had an impressive first year in Madison. He leads the team in goals (4), assists (four) and points (12). In Wisconsin’s win over the Knights in October, he had 1 goal and one assist, with three shot attempts. 

The Badgers possess a solid forward combination with Akindele and Noah Melick. The two have accounted for 8 goals this season, with Melick finding the back of the net twice against Rutgers during the regular season. 

Wisconsin’s defense is one of the best in the Big Ten. Goalkeeper Dean Cowdroy made one save against Ohio State, as the defense was primarily responsible for clearing the Buckeyes’ 14 shots.

Although their record does not reflect it, the Knights are one of the Big Ten’s best in scoring goals. They currently rank fourth in the conference, averaging 1.24 per match.

Along with Hall, several guys who have provided offensive scoring chances are sophomore forward Brendan Wall and fifth-year senior forward Miles Hackett. 

Wall had one shot against the Nittany Lions and has kickstarted transition plays. Hackett had two shots in the team’s last game and has shown to be a fast setup man. He has four assists this season and has spearheaded plays in the box.

Defensively, junior defender Jake Longo, freshman defender Thomas DeVizio and sophomore defender Vincent Borden have had quality performances. 

Longo has started the previous five matches and has adjusted well against opponents. 

As a freshman, DeVizio has earned a start in all 15 of the regular season matches. He has a shot attempt in the majority of the games and has played three-quarters of matches recently. DeVizio has been tasked with taking the majority of Rutgers’ corner kicks. 

Borden has started the last six matches and has played tight defense on whoever he is defending. He has also taken a more offensive role. 

Against Penn State, Borden had two shots and played the full 90 minutes. 

The Knights have not claimed a Big Ten Tournament Championship in their four seasons in the conference. The farthest the team has made it was advancing to the semifinal round in its inaugural season in the conference. 

In head coach Dan Donigan’s tenure on the Banks, the team has made it to two second round appearances in the NCAA Tournament. 

“We’re very focused, very driven to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament,” Wall said. “That’s been our goal for the entire season.”

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

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