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Rutgers men's soccer 2021 season preview

Rutgers men's soccer will start its 2021 season on Thursday against Delaware after falling in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals last season. – Photo by Rutgers Men's Soccer / Twitter

When Jim McElderry took the Rutgers men’s soccer head coaching job in 2019, he was facing the prospect of a serious rebuild since the Scarlet Knights hadn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2015.

“As a native of New Jersey, I understand the history of Rutgers men’s soccer,” McElderry said when he arrived at Rutgers. “I will work tirelessly to attract top level student-athletes, compete at a high level in the Big Ten and on the national stage and engage the alumni and Rutgers fan base to support a team they will be proud to call their own.”

Two seasons later, McElderry’s rebuild is finally bearing fruit. The delayed spring season saw Rutgers finish 5th in the conference by winning four conference games, the most since 2015. The highlight of the season came when the Knights beat Maryland 2-0 at home, their first win over the Terrapins since 1995.

While the season ended in heartbreak after falling to Maryland on penalties in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, it was a leap forward for the program. Now, Rutgers looks to take the next step this fall and potentially contend for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

One factor working in the Knights’ favor was the extra year of eligibility granted to all athletes by the NCAA due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The program returns 10 starters and 19 players from last year’s side. The returning players saw a total of 91 percent of the minutes played last year.

One crucial returning player for the program this fall is senior forward Ritchie Barry, who led the team in scoring and finished third in the Big Ten with 4 goals in 8 games during the spring campaign.

“Honestly (coming back) just felt right,” Barry said in a recent interview on the Inside Rutgers Athletics podcast. “The way the season ended last year felt like it kind of left a bit of a sour taste in our mouths … we just think that we have a really special group here.”

Offensively, Rutgers will also see players like junior midfielder Jackson Temple and senior midfielder Pablo Avila play critical roles in creating attacking opportunities.

Another key player for the Knights is junior goalkeeper Oren Asher, who started every game last season and posted a 1.24 goals against average. Asher has been the top choice keeper since arriving on the Banks in 2019, having started every game of his first two seasons with Rutgers.

The Knights are also starting to get the attention of the rest of the conference in terms of individual honors, with Barry, Avila and Asher all being named on the Big Ten Players to Watch pre-season list.

Rutgers opens up its 2021 fall campaign at Yurcak Field this Thursday, taking on Delaware.

For updates on the Rutgers men's soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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