As summer starts to heat up in July, the collegiate soccer season is rapidly approaching. Last week, the Rutgers men’s soccer team released their schedule for what they hope is a big bounce back season in 2017.
After a very good 2015 campaign in which the program went 12-7-2 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, last season was a big disappointment. Starting the 2016 season ranked and with returning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Jason Wright back, the team struggled mightily and finished 1-14-2. They did fight throughout and suffered three different losses in overtime sessions, including a double overtime loss to Big Ten champ Maryland.
Heading into 2017, the team will be looking to replace one of the best scorers in program history in Wright, as well as standout goalkeeper David Greczek. Senior Dante Perez is the leading returning scorer on the roster, as he produced 5 goals last season. Senior Niel Guzman was third with 8 points behind Wright and Perez, scoring 3 goals and dishing out 2 assists last season.
Head coach Dan Donigan brought in a thirteen member recruiting class, which you can read about more here. Hopefully, the newcomers can contribute early on and blend well with the returning players on the roster. Based on the schedule, the roster will need to come together very quickly.
Rutgers begins the 2017 campaign with four consecutive road contests, including the first two matches of the season against ACC powers Wake Forest and North Carolina. Both programs made the College Cup last season, the men’s soccer version of the Final Four. That is quite a difficult start for a team with many new faces on the roster like Rutgers has. Here is what Donigan had to say, per scarletknights.com.
"So again we have a very challenging slate of matches for our players, coaches, fans and students to come out to and get excited about. I have always believed that our players and supporters want to see us against the very best. This also prepares us for the challenges post season presents if we can do well enough to get there. We must prove within our body of work along the way that we deserve to be back into the NCAA tournament. That has to be proven every time we step onto the field no matter who we are playing. We need to stay healthy, come to compete at an incredibly high level and do whatever it takes to get a result in every game. The work began in our off season and continues as we prepare for the preseason."
The non-conference schedule also includes in-state opponents NJIT and Princeton, as well as other local programs in Lafayette and Columbia. The Scarlet Knights open their home slate at the same time as they begin the Big Ten schedule, hosting Michigan State on September 8th. To prepare for the difficult schedule, Rutgers will scrimmage old Big East foe UConn in mid-August, as well as Monmouth.
After finishing in a third place tie in the Big Ten in 2015, to falling to a last place finish in 2016, there is no place to go but up for men’s soccer. Hopefully, Donigan and the staff can build team chemistry quickly, while also finding players to step up in key roles early on in the season. Look for transfer and two-time JUCO All-American goalkeeper Rafael Pereira to emerge at the back of the defense, while senior Dante Perez should be a leader within the offense.
It’s safe to say no program in the country is starting with a more challenging non-conference schedule than Rutgers and it will definitely help to prepare the team for the rigors of the Big Ten. 2017 is an important season for Donigan and the program, so let’s hope they start fast. The season kicks off for real on August 25th on the road against 2016 national finalist Wake Forest.