The Rutgers men’s soccer team kicks off its 2021 season on Thursday night against Delaware at Yurcak Field. After finishing in fifth place in the Big Ten with a 4-4-1 record overall in a spring shortened season due to COVID-19, the program is primed to make more progress this fall. They return all but one starter and almost every key reserve as 91% of minutes played last season was with players on the current roster.
Earlier this week, the Scarlet Knights were picked to finish in sixth place in the Big Ten preseason coaches poll. The complete poll is here:
2021 BIG TEN MEN’S SOCCER PRESEASON POLL
2. Penn State
5. Michigan State
7. Ohio State
Rutgers was picked behind Michigan State and Maryland, two teams they defeated last season before falling on penalties to the Terps in the Big Ten Tournament. They also took Michigan to overtime. The reality is this team is ready to challenge every team in the conference with the possible exception of Indiana, the unanimous preseason favorite and last season’s national runner-up. The Hoosiers beat RU 3-0 last season.
In addition to the preseason poll, the Big Ten named three players to watch from each team. The Scarlet Knights named were Ritchie Barry, Pablo Avila and Oren Asher. Barry led Rutgers with four goals last season and was a Second Team All-Big Ten selection. Avila led the team in scoring in 2019, is a two-time captain and a key cog in the midfield. Asher had a standout campaign in the net and earned two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week awards last season, becoming the the first player in program history to accomplish that feat since joining the league in 2014.
Other key players include Jackson Temple has been second in goals and points each of the last two seasons, despite an injury in the spring. Nick Cruz pairs well with Avila in the midfield. Program leader Vince Borden returns as well and will anchor the defense that includes reliable backs in Thomas DeVizio and Hugo Le Guennec.
McElderry added ten newcomers to the roster, including seven freshmen and three transfers in Xavi Olmos (Florida International, Jace Orvos (Penn State) and Jason Bouregy (American University).
At the start of preseason, head coach Jim McElderry spoke about the progress made last season and his high hopes for this season on episode no. 101 of the On The Banks Podcast. Below is an audio clip of McElderry making it clear that the goal this season is to earn the program’s first NCAA bid since 2015.
Happy to announce our next guest for the @OTB_SBNation podcast is @RUMensSoccer head coach @jimmcelderry2. Here is quick clip of coach McElderry discussing why expectations for the program should always be the NCAA Tournament. Episode no. 101 drops Tuesday AM. pic.twitter.com/xJnE9AwtVy— Aaron Breitman (@aaron_breitman) August 9, 2021
You can listen to the full episode with McElderry here:
As far as the non-conference schedule, Rutgers hosts Temple next Monday following the season opener and then travels to play at Princeton on September 3. The two schools have had some tremendous battles on the pitch over the years and will meet for the first time since 2017. On resuming the rivalry, McElderry recently stated, “It is great to have Princeton back on our schedule as we hope to be able to keep this game against Jimmy Barlow’s team for many years to come.”
The Scarlet Knights will also host Mount St. Mary’s, Lehigh, St. Joe’s and Penn before traveling to UConn in late October.
RU opens Big Ten play in Bloomington against the defending conference champs and national powerhouse Hoosiers. They are scheduled to face each Big Ten opponent once now that non-conference play has resumed after not taking place in the spring.
Entering McElderry’s third season at Rutgers, the optimism around the program is at its highest since his arrival. It’s a veteran team that is now well versed in his system and their confidence has grown after last season’s step forward. The Scarlet Knights play a tough, relentless brand of soccer and now that they have more talent and depth on the roster, having more success this season is a realistic expectation. A good start in non-conference play is essential to having a chance to make the program’s first NCAA Tournament in six years. The journey begins on Thursday.