Maryland had an offensive breakthrough, for this team a veritable explosion, on Sunday, when they scored 5 times in their 5-1 win over Yale. If that is a sign of things to come, it couldn't have come at a better time, as not only does conference play start Friday, but the team's first conference opponent hasn't surrendered a goal all season.
Rutgers (8-0), who shot up to #15 in the coaches' poll this week, sit at #16 in the Soccer America rankings, and #13 in TopDrawerSoccer's list. Those positions are justified, as Rutgers is one of just three teams to have won every game this season (Tulsa, Washington State), and one of two teams that haven't allowed a goal this season (Cornell).
Rutgers' early-season performance has been impressive, but not terribly surprising. The Scarlet Knights were picked to finish tied for 3rd in the Big Ten this year, and really the preseason poll was a competition for 2nd, considering the presence of #4 Penn State.
The Knights did open some eyes Sunday with a 2-0 win over then #20 UConn, but even before that win, Rutgers' schedule wasn't particularly weak. Currently, their strength of schedule ranks 35th in the nation (Maryland checks in at 46). They've played some real competition, played well against it, and will present a real challenge to the Terrapins on Friday.
Similar to Maryland, Rutgers is a very experienced team. They have 9 seniors, a redshirt junior, and a graduate student on their roster, meaning they could field an entire starting lineup of players who have been in college for at least 4 years.
Players to watch
Sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy picked up her 6th and 7th shutouts of the season last week, earning her co-defensive player of the week honors from the Big Ten. Murphy, of course, is yet to allow a goal, and is averaging 3 saves a game. She was named to the conference's preseason list of players to watch.
Goakeepers alone can't keep teams from finding the back of the net, and Murphy benefits greatly from having senior Brianne Reed play centerback in front of her. Reed was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy watchlist before the season, awarded to the best soccer player in the country. Reed has been a starter since she was a sophomore, and is a big reason for the team's 630-minute shutout to start the season.
So far, Rutgers is outshooting their opponents 15.7 to 7.3, and their shots come from a variety of players. Five Scarlet Knights have taken double digit shots through their first 7 games.
Sophomore forward Colby Ciarrocca is one of three players who have scored twice, and Ciarrocca's two assists give her a team-high 6 points. 2015 is Ciarrocca's first season at Rutgers, and after performing very well at Vanderbilt her freshman year, she has not disappointed early this year for the Scarlet Knights
Cassie Inacio, a graduate student captain, has played her way into more playing time as the season has worn on. The midfielder has shown her worth as a shot taker and creator, having scored twice and tallied an assist in 2015.
Especially after the Yale game, I don't think there's much doubt that the Terrapins have the ability to break Rutgers' shutout, and their perfect season as well. Maryland showed in their 1-0 loss to West Virginia, who are now ranked 7th in the country, that they can hang with high quality opponents, and having that experience under their belt should take care of any potential fear or nerves.
Gametime is 7 PM on Friday. If you can't make it to Ludwig, the game will be streamed on BTN Plus.