The Rutgers men’s soccer team has positioned itself to be one of the first teams “On The Banks” to make an immediate impact with the Scarlet Knights’ move into the Big Ten this fall. The Scarlet Knights return 11 letterwinners, including seven starters from a team that made a late season run into the American Athletic Conference Tournament, proving they can stand toe-to-toe with the best in the country.
“There’s a lot of excitement heading into this season and I feel very good about where we are as a team and a program,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “My guys and our staff have done a very good job over the summer months to get ourselves ready during the summer months. They know what the challenge is ahead of us. Overall I think we are very excited to be a part of a such great conference and know we have a great opportunity in front of us.”
“Overall our team is much more mature. With all these guys, they grow as individuals and players and that allows them to perform at a higher and more consistent level,” added Donigan. “Heading into the Big Ten I think we are certainly going to need that. The move for us comes at no better time this fall as we have a junior dominated team.”
Offensively, Rutgers will miss its top two goal scorers from last season, including forward Kene Eze, who graduated and became the first athlete of the Donigan Era to be selected in the MLS SuperDraft. However, the coaching staff has a number of Scarlet Knights to look to in replacing what they lost with Eze’s graduation with both a mix of veterans and youth.
Redshirt junior JP Correa (Montville, N.J.) is coming off an impressive summer, helping the New Jersey Express to the PDA championship game, and continued to get healthier, bigger, stronger and more mature as a player.
Correa appeared in all 20 games last season with a goal and an assist having come off significant offseason surgery the previous summer. As a freshman, he showcased his ability to be an offensive threat for the Scarlet Knights leading RU with six goals and a team-best five assist en route to being named to the All-BIG EAST Rookie Team and a NSCAA Second Team All-Northeast Region selection.
Additionally, RU welcomes back Eze’s younger brother, juior Olisa Eze (Sayreville, N.J.). The younger Eze, who took a year away from the field last year, had a tremendous spring season and adds a significant amount of speed and athleticism up front that could create problems for teams the Scarlet Knights face.
There are also a host of new faces on the roster that should significantly affect Rutgers’ chances at the net. Among the newcomers are Jason Wright (Kingston, Jamaica), Rayon Gibbs (Jackson, Miss.) and Miles Hackett (Montclair, N.J.), with all three having significant experience and the ability to contribute right away and shoulder some of the responsibility of the offense.
Wright has been a member of both Jamaica’s national U17 and U20 programs. With U20 program, Wright participated at the 2012 CFU Championships. While with the U17 team, he was the top scorer at the 2011 U17 CONCACAF Championships and played in the U17 World Cup in Mexico.
Gibbs comes to Rutgers after helping Tyler Junior College to the semifinals of the NJCAA Division I Tournament. He totaled 12 points from six goals, including the game-winner over for the Apaches over ASA College in the NJCAA Tournament.
Hackett meanwhile was a key member in guiding his South Kent prep school to its sixth New England Championship in the last eight years and its fifth Class B title in the last six seasons. South Kent was ranked among the top 10 on the StudentSports.com Prep School Top 10 throughout last fall. He was a standout at Montclair Kimberley Academy, where he totaled 51 points in his career coming from 39 goals and 17 assists and captured the 2012 NJSIAA Non-Public Championship.
Redshirt junior Thomas O’Rourke (Lawrenceville, N.J.) also gives the Scarlet Knights added depth and experience on its frontline. Appearing in 14 games a year ago, O’Rourke notched a goal against No. 11 Louisville during the regular season and assisted on the game-winner vs. Cincinnati to advance RU to the AAC quarterfinals.
In the midfield, RU welcomes back Nate Bruccoleri (Bordentown, N.J.), the Scarlet Knights’ lone senior, and sophomore Erik Sa (Watchung, N.J.), who picked up a host of accolades in his rookie campaign.
Bruccoleri has been a mainstay of the midfield since first stepping foot on campus and is the key component of RU’s transition game. Doing many of the intangible things that do not appear on the stat sheet, Bruccoleri gives the Scarlet Knights the capability to gain possession and get the team back onto the attack.
Last season he appeared in and started all 20 games last season, logging three points from a goal and an assist. He was named to the Duke Soccer Classic All-Tournament team after posting a goal against Elon. He also recorded an assist in the American Athletic Conference play-in game vs. Cincinnati, as RU exploded for five goals against the Bearcats enroute to a quarterfinal upset of top-seed and seventh-ranked Louisville.
Sa parlayed his impressive high school credentials into a notable freshman season for the Scarlet Knight program last season. He recorded his first collegiate points on an assist against then-No. 5 Akron and also had a helper on the game-winning goal against the top-seeded and seventh ranked Cardinals to help RU to its AAC semifinal appearance. Sa also captured the game-winner in Rutgers’ victory over then-No. 15 Memphis for which he was named the AAC Offensive Player of the Week.
As a sophomore, Sa will be tasked in helping to dictate the offense and pace moving forward and handle more leadership responsibility in the midfield.
Adding depth in the midfield with be redshirt freshman Jack Young (Saddle River, N.J.) and newcomers Ahmad Faheem (Flower Mound, Tex.) and Dante Perez (East Windsor, N.J.). Young redshirted his freshman year, but is considered a tough, rugged and feisty defensive midfielder. The coaching staff has eyed Faheem as potential central midfielder with the ability to create off the dribble and play out of pressure. Perez adds even more depth coming to Rutgers from the Red Bulls Development Academy, where he has played since 2009.
The defense returns several core members including juniors Ross Tetro (Freehold, N.J.), Mitch Taintor (Storrs, Conn.), Drew Morgan (Atlanta, Ga.) and sophomore Spencer Hambleton (Scotch Plains, N.J.).
Tetro, the Scarlet Knight MVP of the 2013 campaign, has been praised throughout his career for his decision making and execution. Appearing in all 20 games a year ago, he helped RU to five shutouts during the season, including games with No. 7 Louisville and No. 19 Memphis. Tetro also totaled five shots which resulted in a game-winner against upcoming Big Ten opponent, Penn State.
Taintor, who as a freshman moved into a starting role on the defense, was moved up front last season to provide more firepower on the attack. While he has proven he can be utilized anywhere on the field, the coaching staff is looking to solidify him as a center back or even an outside back heading into the Big Ten.
Morgan and Hambleton were also mainstays of the RU defense. Morgan’s tough and gritty performances in 17 games last season were among the reasons the Scarlet Knights registered their five shutouts. He also logged three points from a goal and an assist, with his first-career goal being the game-winner against Cincinnati in the AAC play-in game. Hambleton, meanwhile, immediately established himself into the defense’s starting line-up as a rookie last year and has great versatility to be used as an outside back or underlying midfielder.
The Scarlet Knights also have an experienced redshirt sophomore Kieran Kemmerer (Belle Mead, N.J.) along with newcomers Niel Guzman (Bridgewater, N.J.), Brandon Tetro (Freehold, N.J.) and Sang Lee (Morganville, N.J.) to utilize. Kemmerer provided quality minutes as a reserve in 2013 and recorded his first career assist in RU’s victory over Cincinnati in the AAC play-in game.
A U.S. Soccer Development Academy U17/18 All-American, Guzman captained PDA to a national championship anchoring a defense that allowed just 19 goals.
Tetro follows in his older brother Ross’ footsteps in donning the Scarlet Knight uniform. Listed as the ninth-ranked player in the state of New Jersey and Top Drawer Soccer.com’s No.14-ranked defender, he was an All-Northeast Division selection with the New York Red Bulls.
Lee meanwhile comes to Rutgers after playing for Match Fit Academy FC since 2009 and spending time with FC Copa Chelsea as a starting outside defender.
The last line of defense will be a tough one for opponents to break through. David Greczek (Fairfield, N.J.) returns after a highly successful freshman season in which he was one of the top keepers in the American along with UConn’s Hermann Trophy semifinalist Andre Blake. Named Second Team All-American Athletic Conference and a member of the conference’s all-rookie team, Greczek held down a 1.23 goals against average with a .812 save percentage and five shutouts. Totaling 108 stops in goal for the Scarlet Knights, he logged the most saves for an RU keeper since 1994. Among his most notable games was Rutgers’ 1-0 shutout over top-seeded and seventh-ranked Louisville during the AAC Tournament run, where Greczeck notched a nine saves. He also captured a season-high 11 saves, including six in overtime, against eventual AAC Champion, USF, during the regular season.
The Scarlet Knights also have another able body keeper in Mitchell Wailer (Holmdel, N.J.), who could push Greczek for time in net. Wailer made significant strides in the spring season to impress the coaching staff and should parlay that experience into more minutes this season. As a freshman, he saw time in goal against Hofstra, keeping the Pride scoreless the entire second half of action.
The Scarlet Knights, never ones to shy away from a tough schedule, will once again face another challenging slate as RU will play eight NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago. Six of those teams will be coming from the Big Ten.
Yurcak Field will play host to 12 regular season contests, including four Big Ten matches that include national runner-up Maryland, Big Ten Tournament champion Indiana, as well as NCAA Tournament participants Northwestern and Michigan. RU’s home schedule also features Ivy League champions, Pennsylvania, and the Missouri Valley Conference champions, Bradley.
“I am thrilled to be a part of what I think is one of the best conferences in the country,” said Donigan. “Every school within the Big Ten has had tremendous success in the NCAA Tournament and every year there will be many teams within this conference that can make a run at a national championship.
“I don’t feel there is one team in the league that you can say is the top team and that says a lot about the caliber of this conference,” Donigan added. “If we can have success within the Big Ten, we will have success nationally. That is how strong I feel about this conference. The coaches are some of the best in the country and certainly the talent pool of players is fantastic. We will be ready to go come this fall.”
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