When asked about how he felt about his team after winning their first two games of the season, head coach Jim McElderry emphasized that the Rutgers men's soccer team is a work in progress.
“I think that we’re still really in the beginning stages of (the team’s development),” McElderry said. “We have so many new players, so it takes time for them to really gel. (We have) 11 freshmen (going through) a lot of changes in their lives when they get here.”
They were firing on all cylinders Saturday night, finishing a three game road trip with a 1-0 victory over Elon.
From the opening whistle, the Scarlet Knights' (3-0) attack pressured the Phoenix (1-1-1) backline early and often, with true freshman midfielder Randy Arronis getting the first shot of the game within the opening 30 seconds. By the 25th minute, Rutgers got six shots on target.
“It was probably the best start to a game we've had all year,” McElderry said. “We created a bunch of chances in the first half and we were unlucky not to have scored a goal.”
Elon didn’t threaten the Knights' backline until the 43rd minute, when the Phoenix's Kasper Lehm's free kick was parried away by true freshman goalkeeper Oren Asher to preserve the 0-0 scoreline heading into halftime.
Rutgers had two great looks in the 48th minute. An initial shot from sophomore midfielder Valentino Ambrosio was blocked, and a follow-up header from true freshman midfielder Jackson Temple was saved.
The Knights finally took the lead in the 72nd minute off an own goal, which allowed the team to focus all of their efforts on preserving the clean sheet.
“After we got the goal, we tightened up a bit, but our guys were out there fighting to keep a clean sheet,” McElderry said. “Elon started getting really direct (and) forced us to battle.”
The Phoenix ramped up the pressure, sending everybody forward in search of an equalizer. Asher was up for the challenge, making a double save in the 88th minute. Elon’s final opportunity to equalize came with 49 seconds remaining, when its own Iñigo Bronte fired a shot just over the crossbar.
It’s another huge win for this rebuilding Rutgers program, getting them the first 3-0 opening win streak since 1996 and setting themselves up to match last year’s win total in the home opener against a Binghamton team that is coming off two straight losses to Syracuse and Canisius.
It also served as a revenge game for the Knights’ veterans. Last year’s early season against the Phoenix at Yurcak Field ended in a 8-1 blowout defeat, a sign of things to come in a season that ended with just four wins.
It’s still too early to tell how far Rutgers can go in 2019. It still hasn't faced Big Ten-quality opponents this year, and three games can only tell you so much about a team.
But one thing is for certain. This young, inexperienced group currently finds itself as one of the hottest teams in college soccer.
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