In the final stretch of the season, the Ohio State men’s soccer team seems to be getting hot at the right time — or at least taking advantage of a more manageable schedule.
After 11 of the Buckeyes’ (6-5-3, 3-2-0) first 12 opponents ranked in the top 60 of the RPI, OSU took care of business against No. 138 Wisconsin and No. 99 Bowling Green in its last two.
“This could be one of the most important parts of the season,” senior midfielder Max Moller said. “We want to show for this university and really represent this university really well. This could be the difference for the NCAA Tournament and for the Big Ten. We need to take advantage of these weaker teams.”
That trend could continue on Saturday, when OSU is scheduled to take on Rutgers (5-8-1, 1-4-1) — which is ranked No. 80 in the RPI.
OSU coach John Bluem said he doesn’t know much about Rutgers, as the schools have never met because Rutgers is a first-year addition to the Big Ten. Bluem said he had a chance to scout the Scarlet Knights earlier in the week, however, and was impressed with what he saw.
“From what I’ve seen on the videotape, they have some really talented attacking players,” Bluem said. “So defensively, we’re going to have to be spot on.”
The game is the second of a three-game homestand that will represent the final home games of the regular season for the Buckeyes. However, players — such as freshman forward Marcus McCrary — plan to make at least one more appearance in Columbus this season to host a quarterfinal matchup in the Big Ten Tournament, McCrary said.
“We need to win out to play at home again and hopefully go to the NCAA Tournament,” he said.
Bluem explained that the goal for the Buckeyes is to finish in the top four of the Big Ten in order to host a quarterfinal game. Currently, the Buckeyes sit fourth in the conference with nine points, three points behind leader Penn State and a point behind Michigan State and Maryland, who are tied for second.
“The key is to finish the regular season somewhere in the top four,” Bluem said. “Everyone is so tightly packed together, and I think it’s going to stay that way, so it’s all going to come down to taking care of business here at home.”
The Buckeyes are set to have an opportunity to control their own destiny in their final two games, when they take on one of the two teams currently a point ahead of them on the road. For now, however, the focus is on beating one of the weaker teams in the conference, Bluem said. The Scarlet Knights are currently second to last in the Big Ten.
“Rutgers at home, that’s an important one to win that one,” Bluem said. “That’s what I think it’s going to come down to. I think 13 points will probably keep you in the top four.”
In addition to the two full days of rest leading up to the game against Rutgers, Bluem also gave his team an additional breather in the second half against Bowling Green. Only redshirt-senior goalkeeper Alex Ivanov and sophomore defender Tyler Kidwell were not pulled out of the game by the end on Wednesday.
“Obviously we got to rest some people tonight, we came out of the game without injuries, so that was an important thing,” Bluem said after the game. “To get some of the guys, the substitute players, a chance to get out on the field a little bit and run around, that was great, good for them, and they did a very, very good job.”
Bluem said while the team has been fortunate to stay healthy this late in the season, he was still glad to have the opportunity to manage his players’ workloads.
“I think we’re pretty lucky right now,” Bluem said. “Knock on wood that we don’t suffer any injuries, hopefully that will be the case and we can make it through the rest of our games without any serious problems.”
Ivanov, who has not allowed a goal in his past two starts, might have a chance to see that streak continue against a Scarlet Knights team that has been shut out in five of its past nine games. Ivanov’s longest career shutout streak was four, set late last season.
OSU’s matchup against Rutgers is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.