The #13 Rutgers women's soccer team opened Big Ten late Sunday afternoon with a convincing 2-0 victory over previously unbeaten Maryland (6-1-1; 0-1-0) in front of the home faithful at Yurcak Field.
There wasn't much separation between the two sides in a scoreless first half, as both teams took four shots and three corner kicks apiece. However, Rutgers was able to control the tempo after the break and put pressure on the Maryland defense for long stretches. In the 65th minute, Alexa Ferreira had her shot blocked and it was accidentally headed in the net by a Maryland defender in a failed attempt at clearing the ball, giving Rutgers a 1-0 lead.
Soon after in the 74th minute, the top two scorers for the Scarlet Knights combined to put the game away, as Colby Ciarrocca found Amirah Ali in the box, who then fed it back to the senior captain with a heel pass and Ciarrocca put the ball in the back of the net. It was the 5th goal of the season for Ciarrocca, a team best, and the second assist for Ali. On the season so far, Ciarrocca leads Rutgers with 12 points and Ali is second with 10 points.
Goalkeeper Casey Murphy made four saves in the game and finished with her 8th consecutive shutout to start the season. It the 37th clean sheet for Murphy in her career at Rutgers, which is second best in program history.
"The shutouts start from our front five defending and our defense has been solid and compact, denying all shots and services," said Murphy. "Their mentality is to deny everything and give the other team nothing. It comes from our coaching staff instilling those details and habits in our training every day."
Rutgers (7-0-1; 1-0-0) is back in action this weekend, as they travel to play Northwestern (4-4-1; 1-1-0) on Friday and Illinois (3-7-0; 0-2-0) on Sunday. With a Big Ten title being the ultimate goal for the Scarlet Knights in conference play, its crucial they win both games on the road. They are 1-0-1 away from him so far this season.
Northwestern was picked to finish second in the Big Ten in the preseason coaches' poll, one spot ahead of Rutgers, but have struggled so far in 2017. The Wildcats were co-Big Ten champs last season, but fell in both meetings to the Scarlet Knights. Northwestern will be highly motivated for a different outcome against Rutgers this time, who will need to be ready for their best effort.