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Rutgers' 5-match streak ends with draw to UPenn

The unexpected five-game win streak that propelled the Rutgers men’s soccer team back into the top 25 came to an end on Tuesday night, as the No. 24 Scarlet Knights (5-0-1) drew UPenn 1-1 on the road.  

“We're disappointed we tied this match and for not playing our best, but the season is young,” said senior defender and captain Jake Longo. “We showed glimpses of really good stuff and now we prepare for the biggest match of the season so far (against Michigan).”

Rutgers got an opportunity to score early when true freshman defender Chris Tiao was brought down at the edge of the right flank of the box. Sophomore midfielder Pablo Avila converted the first penalty kick of his career to put the Knights up in the 8th minute.

Rutgers almost doubled its lead in the 11th minute. Sophomore defender Thomas DeVizio’s cross from the left found true freshman midfielder Jackson Temple in the box, but Temple hit it over the crossbar.

True freshman goalkeeper Oren Asher made a clutch save in the 16th minute, thwarting a one-on-one with the Quakers' (2-1-1) Ben Stitz to preserve the lead. He came up big again 10 minutes later, stopping his teammate Jake Kohlbrenner's header from point blank range.

The next big opportunity wouldn’t come until the 60th minute, when junior defender Vincent Borden’s bicycle kick was saved by UPenn's Dane Jacomen. 

The Quakers would finally draw level in the 69th minute, as their own Alex Touche got his head on the end of a corner kick and put it in the back of the net.

UPenn threatened to take the lead 5 minutes later, but the Knights survived as its own Joey Bhangdia’s header ricocheted off the crossbar and out of play.

As the game headed into overtime, both teams had settled into a grind-it-out midfield battle. With neither team recording a shot on target in overtime, the game would end in a draw.

While Rutgers kept its undefeated streak alive through six matches, there was a clear sense of disappointment in the result after the final whistle.

"I think it's a good sign after the game that our guys felt like they lost the game,” said head coach Jim McElderry. “That's a good sign of the standards we are trying to set here.”

With this result in the rearview mirror, now all eyes are on Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Michigan. The Knights will now have to work out the kinks and prepare for a tougher level of competition. 

There were a couple of moments in the second half that we looked a little down, but the overall effort was good in blocking shots,” McElderry said. “That's going to happen when you play good teams — they are going to get on top of you at moments.”

The non-conference schedule has gone as well as expected, with Rutgers 5-0-1 with one game to play. But the major question heading into Big Ten play is — can the Knights keep it up against soccer factories like Indiana and Maryland?

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

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