For the first time since 2011, Maryland women’s soccer enters conference play undefeated. The Terps will get their first big test of the season in the Big Ten opener against Rutgers, who has had an even more impressive start to the year. Maryland will travel back to Piscataway, where it lost to Rutgers, then ranked 22nd in the nation, 1-0 in 2016
This is the first time this season Maryland will play a team of this caliber. Despite having the same record as the Terps, Rutgers has been more dominant this year and more consistent over the past five seasons.
The Terps and Scarlet Knights will begin their battle at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, and the game will be broadcast on BTN Plus.
No. 13 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-0-1)
2016 record: 12-5-6, 4-2-5 Big Ten
Head Coach Mike O’Neill. After spending ten seasons as an assistant at Rutgers, O’Neill was promoted to the head coach position in 2014. So far, he has had a successful tenure; Rutgers has made the NCAA Tournament in each of the previous three seasons. O’Neill has a 53-15-11 career record with the Scarlet Knights, which is also his only full-time head coaching experience.
Players to Watch
Casey Murphy, redshirt junior, goalkeeper, No. 11. Since arriving to Rutgers as a freshman, Murphy has been sensational for the team. In 53 games since 2014, Murphy has a 0.42 goals-against average and an .877 save percentage. In 2017, she has yet to allow a goal on 21 shots and has totaled seven shutouts, which is ridiculous.
Colby Ciarrocca, senior, forward, No. 4. After transferring from Vanderbilt after her freshman season, Ciarrocca has been a rock for the Scarlet Knights. She has started all 56 games since arriving at Rutgers, totaling 19 goals and 11 assists. Her 10 points leads the team, and she’s registered a point in five of Rutgers’ seven games this year.
Ali Amirah, freshman, forward, No. 17. Amirah headlined Rutgers’ recruiting class this year, which ranked 21st in the nation. The freshman is tied with Ciarrocca for the team lead with four goals, and she has started all seven games so far as well. In high school, she once scored 36 goals in a season, which proves that she has a strong ability to finish.
Defense. Lead by Murphy’s goaltending, Rutgers hasn’t let up a goal through seven games this year, outscoring its opponents 20-0. The Scarlet Knights are one of two teams yet to allow a score, joining University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. For Maryland to win this game, it will have to do something that literally no one has done this season and find a way to score.
Offense. While Rutgers’ defense has been the story of the season, its offense has held its own as well. The Scarlet Knights rank ninth in the country, scoring 2.86 goals per game, and have 57 team points on the season, which is tied for 14th. This will be a great test for Terps goalkeeper Rachel Egyed, who has only allowed seven goals in seven games this year.
Corner kicks. Quite possibly the only negative about this Rutgers team is corner kicks, as the Scarlet Knights only average 3.14 per game, 263rd in the nation. If Maryland can find a way to take advantage of this, it could be a huge boost in the game.
Three things to watch
- Is Maryland for real? While the Terps’ 6-0-1 start is impressive, it came against seven unranked non-conference opponents, only one of which even receiving votes this season. After a 10-day hiatus, Maryland’s schedule gets immediately tougher, beginning with a strong Rutgers team. Ray Leone has his team playing exceptionally well this year, but there have been enough stretches of struggles to question if the Terps can compete all season. One way or another, Sunday’s game will be a strong indicator of Maryland’s stance in the Big Ten.
- Will Mikayla Dayes play? Since Dayes’ injury against Richmond Aug. 31, the freshman hasn’t played in a game, hurting the offense. If she plays against Rutgers, that could be an indicator that Leone was playing the long game and making sure Dayes was healthy for Maryland’s Big Ten schedule. If Dayes doesn’t play against a team that hasn’t allowed a goal, that means her injury is a lot more serious than previously thought, as Maryland would probably want her to play even if she isn’t 100 percent. While Madison Turner, Chelsea Jackson and Jarena Harmon have been great, Maryland needs a healthy Dayes to make a Big Ten run.
- How will Ray Leone set his lineup? Maryland’s coach spent most of the non-conference schedule experimenting with different rotations, trying to find the right chemistry with his new and returning players. This will be the first game where we can get a good idea of what Leone believes is his best lineup, especially after resting a few upperclassmen last time out. This is the most important game yet in the Ray Leone era of women’s soccer, and this game could give us a glimpse at what Maryland saw in Leone 21 months ago.