Rutgers men’s soccer reached its first Big Ten Tournament final with a semi-final victory over Ohio State
For the first time in a quarter century, the Rutgers men’s soccer program separates one win from the Conference Championship title.
The second-seeded Scarlet Knights advanced to the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in the program’s history on Wednesday, defeating third-seeded Ohio State, 2-1, in their semi-final match at Yurcak Field behind goals from top striker Jackson Temple and top left-back Chris Tiao, plus five saves from new goalkeeper Kieran Dalton.
“Really proud of this effort,” said coach Jim McElderry. “It was always difficult. They are an excellent team, they have a lot of great players, so we knew there would be a lot of tough moments, so proud of the effort and the toughness we showed.”
It was as poetic a victory as historic for Rutgers, who avenges a 4-0 loss to the Buckeyes in the 2015 Big Ten semifinals, the only other time she has reached that stage of competition in her nine seasons as a conference member. The Crimson Knights put in their first conference championship final since the 1997 Big East, capturing St. John’s, 2-1, in overtime.
The victory came in front of 1,581 fans who played a crucial role in the victory, according to McElderry.
“I think what was really vital today was having a home crowd,” McElderry said. “There are tough moments in the match and the fans are cheering. They have been very supportive of us. They don’t get frustrated when we make mistakes, so I think they really helped us cross the line today.”
Rutgers plays the other semi-final winner between top seed Maryland and fourth seed Indiana in Sunday’s championship game. If the Terrapins win, the Scarlet Knights will travel to College Park for the championship match; If the Hoosiers pull off the upset, the Rutgers will host the championship match. This may be an important factor: Rutgers is unbeaten at home in the Big Ten (3-0) while winning only once in nine road games in the competition.
“No matter where the game is, we are lucky that we don’t have to hop on a plane and fly anywhere,” McElderry said. “Of course we would love to have it here because we have a lot of support and it will be another prize for our players, but either way we will enjoy the next two hours and then start worrying about the final.”
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Winning the final would earn the Scarlet Knights their seventh Conference Championship title in the program’s history; The Scarlet Knights won four championships at Atlantic 10 (1990-1991, 93-94) and two majors in the East (1996-1997). Men’s soccer will also make the school’s second program to win the Big Ten Tournament, to join the 2022 field hockey team.
It was a great even game in Piscataway that included 20 fouls, three yellow cards and a lot of tough tackles and fights. The Buckeyes outplayed the Scarlet Knights, 13-10, but the home owners were more efficient in terms of their chances, scoring two goals from four shots on target.
“In every sport, you see a lot of desperation late in the season because guys want their seasons to last,” McElderry said. “They just throw everything at you. I can do without joking because I think the referees can indulge in that. I don’t like it, but for the most part, I think our guys were very composed today. It’s tough, these teams play a few times a year And it becomes like competitions. I’m just proud of the way our guys played.”
Ohio State threatened to score first, forcing Dalton to tackle his first of the evening in the ninth minute, then another huge one. after five minutes.
Big Ten Offensive Player MD Myers created Rutgers’ first chance of the game, deflecting his shot in the 16th minute to a corner kick.
Jackson Temple, who scored the winning penalty kick in Rutgers’ penalty shootout win over Wisconsin in the quarter-finals, Rutgers put 1-0 Nine minutes later, a cross from Tiao nodded to the ground in the back of the net. This result remained until the end of the first half thanks to another save from Dalton one minute before the end of the first half.
The Buckeyes broke through the ball almost immediately after the break, leveling with a Green goal six minutes into the second half. Rutgers regained the lead 10 minutes later via Tiao, who roared down the left wing before Shot under the leadership of the top ten goalkeeper Keegan McLaughlin.
“I got it back from the player there, close to the goal, I went into a one-on-one game and saw an opportunity, so I just set it,” said Tiao. “Now, the Big Ten final that we’re going to play in, it feels great that we’re here, and we’re looking forward to winning it, no matter who we play.”
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Ohio State threatened a draw on several occasions, first with a header from Thomas Gillige in the 73rd minute that passed over the bar, then through a shot that Dalton saved and bounced away in the 75th minute. But the Bucks family couldn’t come back, keeping the Rutgers’ magical season on track.
When asked if he expected the Scarlet Knights to be here at the start of the season, McElderry said he has a lot of faith in his group, but admits “you never know how the teams are going.”
It turns out that his fourth team, led by several seniors like Temple and Tiao, whom he had recruited on campus when he first arrived, goes too far.
“It wasn’t all roses for them when we were here,” McElderry said. “We’ve had some tough times, especially in the Big Ten. We finished ninth in their first year. For us to be in the Big Ten final on Sunday is amazing. Hopefully the NCAA Championship committee will keep an eye on this and realize that regardless of the outcome on Sunday We should be in the NCAA Championship.”
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Brian Fonseca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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