The Rutgers men’s soccer program enters the 2019 season in full rebuilding mode. After a combined 9-40-4 record the previous three seasons, including a 2-20-2 record in Big Ten play, athletic director Pat Hobbs dismissed Dan Donigan as head coach after nine seasons last fall. In December, Hobbs hired Jim McElderry, who won 127 games over 16 seasons at Fordham, including a NCAA Quarterfinals appearance in 2017. McElderry built that program into a consistent winner and hopes to do the same with the Scarlet Knights.
Despite Rutgers last making the NCAA Tournament in 2015, the roster that McElderry inherited is far removed from that type of team. Making matters more difficult was the fact that Jordan Hall, who led Rutgers and the Big Ten with 14 goals last season, transferred to UConn two weeks before McElderry was even hired. For a team that struggled to score to begin with, losing Hall was a massive blow. However, McElderry already had plenty of work to do to remake the roster. Just 16% of the scoring production from last season returns.
On Wednesday, Rutgers announced the first recruiting class of McElderry’s tenure, as he signed 13 players, including 11 freshmen and 2 transfers. It’s a geographically diverse class, with players coming from France (2), Norway, Spain, and Israel, in addition to 8 recruits coming from New Jersey/New York/Connecticut/Pennsylvania. It’s a large class, which was needed to fill so many holes, but is even more impressive since the head coach had less time than usual to put it together after being hired over a month after the season ended.
“First I would like to thank my soccer staff for the work they put into this class over the past six months,” said McElderry. “Since starting in December, we have all been focused on improving our team through training the current group during the spring season and recruiting new players who can increase the level of competition amongst our team. I would also like to thank all of the support staff at Rutgers. I have had to learn quickly on how things are done here and everyone involved in the process have been incredible.
Expectations should be realistic in McElderry’s first season, as a complete makeover is in progress. The first recruiting class appears to have improved the talent and depth of the roster, which is obviously key for the rebuilding effort and laying a new foundation for the program.
”The group of new players will increase competition for places on our team, help us raise our level of competitiveness in training and simply improve our level of play in matches. We have additions in all areas of the team from goalkeeper to forwards.”
While it’s a young group, there are many players with plenty of experience at this point in their careers. McElderry has a strong relationship with many local club and MLS academy teams and this class reflects that.
Rutgers added midfielders Randy Arronis and Anthony O’Donnell from local academy club PDA, as well as defender Clement Slavik from Cedar Stars Monmouth’s Under-19 team. There are now six players on the current roster that played for PDA before coming to Rutgers, so that pipeline remains strong.
There were also three players added with experience from MLS academies in goalkeeper Cameron Farrar (New York City Football Club U19), midfielder Jackson Temple (Philadelphia Union), and defender Chris Tiao (New York Red Bulls Academy). Temple played for the United States U-15 national team a couple years ago and Tiao has quite a bit of experience playing at the highest levels of youth soccer.
Rutgers only had one international player on the roster heading into this season with junior midfielder Tyejae Burchall hailing from Bermuda. There is certainly much more diversity now with the five players added from overseas, including four Europeans. Goalkeeper Oren Asher brings plenty of life experience in addition to his soccer background, having served in the Israeli Defense Force back in his home country.
Also new to the program is midfielder Valentino Ambrosio, who has transferred to Rutgers after one season at FDU. Previously, he played for both the New York Red Bulls and Cedar Stars Monmouth academies.
In regard to the returning players on the roster, sophomore defender Thomas DeVizio earned Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors last season and is set to be a key in the back of the Rutgers defense this season. Junior midfielder Vincenzo Pugliese and junior defender Brandon Golden both played in every game last season and could emerge as leaders for this team. Sophomore midfielder Nick Cruz returns as well and played all but one game in 2018.
With training camp beginning, coach McElderry and his staff have plenty of work to do in shaping and preparing this team for the season ahead. To his credit, he is focused on not only establishing Rutgers as a top half Big Ten team, but bringing them back to national prominence as well.
”It is an exciting time here at Rutgers with so many projects going on around us on campus and especially watching the building of our future home in the Rodkin Center. However, right now we want to get the guys on campus, start putting our 2019 team together and laying the foundation for the future. Rutgers men’s soccer has a great history and this August our players will be challenged with putting our program back on the national stage as quickly as possible. There is a lot of work ahead of us.”
Rutgers will play exhibition matches vs. UConn and at Monmouth before the season opener at Temple on August 29th. We’ll have a full season preview before the 2019 campaign begins. Below is the episode that our podcast host Lance Glinn welcomed coach McElderry soon after he was hired, covering his background and vision for the future of Rutgers soccer.