At 10:00 pm Eastern Time on August 22, 2014, the Maryland women's soccer team took the field at UCLA and became the first Terrapins team in any sport to play an official (non-exhibition) game as a member of the Big Ten. Because their game starts at 5:00 pm Friday, it is the men's soccer squad that will have the honor of being the first Maryland team to play a B1G conference game. At 7:00 pm, when the women's soccer team lines up on the pitch to face Rutgers, they will become the first Maryland team to host a conference game. In a bit of an ironic twist it will also be the first conference game in any sport for the Scarlet Knights, the league's other newcomer.
A true test
Rutgers 2013 edition
Maryland was slotted third in the B1G women's soccer preseason coaches' poll while Rutgers was picked to tie for the eighth spot with Iowa. This must be a result of the coaches showing enormous respect for the Terps' previous conference affiliation. The Terps finished with an overall record of 10-10 last season, were 6-7 in the ACC, and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Rutgers finished 13-4-5 overall and 5-3-1 in the American Athletic Conference, reached their conference tournament title game and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament where they were eliminated by West Virginia in the first round on penalty kicks. Perhaps the coaches didn't show Rutgers quite the level of respect they deserved.
Rutgers put together two four game winning streaks in 2013 and over the season's final five games their defense conceded precisely one goal. Each of their last three games - two in the AAC Tournament and one in the NCAA Tournament - ended in 0-0 ties with the Scarlet Knights winning two of the three shoot outs.
Rutgers 2014 edition
For a third consecutive year, Rutgers has opened the season 4-0. The Scarlet Knights, who return six starters from 2013, have home wins over Stony Brook, Vanderbilt and Seton Hall and won their last game on the road at Princeton. They are currently ranked 25th in the NSCAA Coaches Poll. Stretching back to the end of the 2013 season, they have a nine game unbeaten string and their defense has maintained the stingy play that marked the beginning of that stretch to open the current campaign. Rutgers has given up only one goal in four games thus far and has put together three consecutive shutouts. They are allowing their opponents an average of just under seven shots (27 in the four games) per game.
Statistically, they don't sacrifice their attack to bolster their defense. The Scarlet Knights average over fifteen shots per game either slightly more or slightly less than Maryland. (Maryland averages 13.6 shots per game but has taken an average of 17 per game since being held without an attempt at UCLA.) Rutgers is also very precise in their shooting. Like Maryland, nearly half of their shots have been on goal. (Rutgers SOG .492; Maryland SOG .485) Thus far, they have done the bulk of their scoring in the second half netting nine of their twelve goals in that stanza.
Players to watch
Amy Pietrangelo, #21, senior, forward/midfielder. Pietrangelo is one of two Rutgers players with three goals in the early going and is the team's leading scorer with seven points. The 5'4" senior was the Canadian U-20 Player of the Year as a high school senior. Her three goals this season have doubled her career total.
Stephanie Scholz, #9, senior, forward. Scholz is the other Scarlet Knight with three goals on the season. Unlike Pietrangelo, Scholz's scoring comes as no surprise. As one of Rutgers' three representatives on the B1G preseason Players to Watch list, Scholz returns having led Rutgers in goals in 2013 after finding the net ten times. She added one assist to lead the team with 21 total points. With 18 career goals she is tied for tenth all-time for Rutgers. Scholz is clearly a dangerous player who knows how to finish when she is in position to score.
Madison Tiernan, #73, sophomore, midfielder. Another player on the B1G preseason watch list, Tiernan has scored twice and handed out two assists thus far this season. She is the second leading returning scorer for the Knights having picked up six goals and five assists in her freshman campaign.
Casey Murphy, # 23, freshman, goalkeeper. A four star recruit and the eighteenth best player in the state of New Jersey according to TopDrawerSoccer.com, Murphy has had an outstanding start to her freshman season. She's started all four games and has played all but two and a half minutes in goal for the Scarlet Knights. She's picked up ten saves while allowing just one goal thus far for a .909 save percentage.
Friday's game will be the eighth all-time between the two programs with Maryland owning a 5-1-1 record in the seven previous meetings. The squads last played on September 11, 2005 in College Park with the Terps coming away with a 1-0 win. Rutgers' only win in the series came in 1989 in a 6-1 rout.
An important stretch
Maryland opens their inaugural Big Ten slate with three consecutive home games. Michigan and Michigan State will follow Rutgers to College Park. If the Terrapins want to make some noise in the conference, it is critical that they hold serve in these first three contests. Although their road schedule has been rugged, with games at two top fifteen foes in UCLA and Pepperdine and a quality opponent in Navy, the fact that Maryland has yet to pick up a road win and has only scored one goal away from College Park adds a degree of importance to this stretch of games.
How to watch
The best way to watch the game is to come to Ludwig and support the team in person. For those of you who can't, the Big Ten Network's subscription internet service, BTN Plus, will stream the game live beginning at 7:00 pm. Fans can also follow the game through Live Stats and Twitter. The Live Stats link will be available from UMTerps.com at game time.