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McElderry's Rutgers rebuild accelerates with best start of century

Head coach Jim McElderry began his head coaching career with a 1-0 loss to Manhattan in 2003. Then, his last game against the Jaspers (0-3) in the final year of his tenure at Fordham was a 1-0 loss last season on a goal in the final minute last September. 

As fate would have it, McElderry’s first season at the helm of the Rutgers men's soccer team would give him the chance to face Manhattan head coach Jorden Scott once again in only the second meeting between the Scarlet Knights (5-0) and the Jaspers ever with some history at stake. 

“It was a really great game last year,” McElderry said. “He plays the game the right way He’s a really good guy, he’s a New Jersey guy, he lives here so I have a great relationship with (Scott)." 

McElderry would have the last laugh against Scott, at least for now. A game-winning goal by true freshman midfielder Jackson Temple in the final 3 minutes lifted Rutgers to a 1-0 victory, pushing it past its win total from each of the past three seasons and delivering its first 5-0 start since 1990. 

The Knights received 28 votes in last week’s United Soccer Coaches Poll, but have a very good chance to join Maryland and Indiana as the only Big Ten schools to be included in the rankings, when the updated list is released this Tuesday. If they are, then it will be the first time since 2015 that the team achieves a national ranking. 

It took McElderry three years to get the Rams to a national ranking. He took over a program that hadn’t finished with a winning record since 1998, and turned them into perennial winners after a two-year rebuilding process. His rebuild of Rutgers has seemingly taken no time at all. 

“When I took over at Fordham, we didn’t win a lot of games that year, but we had a really great group of guys that worked hard … guys that I still talk to all the time because they were very helpful in me building the program there because they stayed involved over the years so a little bit different from my experience here,” McElderry said. “We had some good players here when I got here, so adding some quality newcomers and then also meshing them with the guys that were already here is a little bit of a different situation.”

The different situation is a sudden program turnaround that is only comparable to that of the Knights' rowing program’s recent ascension under head coach Justin Price. McElderry’s turnaround is arguably even more dramatic considering the higher profile of the sport, the historic undefeated start and youth movement being led by true freshmen including Temple, midfielder Jørgen Wisth Lie and goalkeeper Oren Asher. 

“They don’t overthink things, they just come out and compete but most importantly the future is bright here,” McElderry said. “We’re going to always try to recruit excellent players. We’re also going to try and respect our older players here and win as many games as we can now.”

Yurcak Field has become the sight of a dramatically accelerated rebuild of one of the Rutgers' oldest programs. It has come together perfectly so far for McElderry, and has vastly outpaced his rebuild of the Rams over a decade and a half ago. 

His historic start with the Knights culminated against a familiar opponent and while a higher degree of competition awaits deeper into the schedule, McElderry and his freshmen have left no meat on the bone in their introduction to Rutgers soccer. They will get the chance to prove themselves against harder competitors when Big Ten play begins next week. 

“One of the reasons I came to Rutgers is because of the great history here. I grew up in New Jersey, I used to come see the games even when I was in college,” McElderry said. “We have a lot to live up to, starting 5-0, I didn’t know anything about that but we’re trying to just compete every day, trying to make people that come out to our games proud of the way we’re playing … hopefully they’ll walk away saying that we try to play a good brand of soccer.”

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