The Ohio State men’s soccer team traveled to Piscataway, New Jersey, on Oct. 25 boasting an eight-game winning streak. But after a 1-0 loss to Rutgers, it headed back to Columbus with it snapped.
Now, just less than three weeks later, the Buckeyes will get their chance to avenge their streak-breaking loss against the Scarlet Knights with a trip to the Big Ten championship match on the line.
“It’s going to be an interesting rematch,” said OSU coach John Bluem. “Rutgers is a very good team and they won deservingly at their place. They were better than us that day and they are a very good attacking team.”
The No. 1-seeded Buckeyes are set to host the No. 4-seeded Scarlet Knights at 1 p.m. on Friday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
“Rutgers is a good team and last game was very even, but they just managed to knick it,” Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and senior co-captain Liam Doyle said. “This time it’s our home field, and that will benefit us.”
The Buckeyes will be entering Friday’s match after a 1-0 shutout victory over Penn State on Sunday. Despite the win, the Scarlet and Gray was not satisfied with its performance.
“We had prepared for that game and we thought that we were in the right frame of mind to play against that opponent, but we were very flat,” Bluem said. “I think it came down to our mental preparation. We thought the game was going to be easy.”
Bluem said it was lesson learned and the team cannot take its next opponent lightly. He said OSU is going to need to bring its “A” game in order to advance for a chance to play for the conference title.
As Rutgers showed in the regular-season match, anything less than a top-notch performance from the Buckeyes could spell an end in their conference tournament run.
Sophomore forward Jason Wright, who was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, has been the focal point for the Scarlet Knight offense, as he leads the team with 13 goals and four assists.
“Jason Wright, their center forward, is in a class by himself. He’s outstanding, so we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Bluem said.
Players on the OSU soccer team said they have an idea of what they will need to do to stop Wright — who scored the lone goal against the Buckeyes in Piscataway — from exploding with the ball.
“When he gets the ball we have to make sure we have cover and make sure we provide cover for each other, and we can’t let him come at us one-on-one,” senior and Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year Chris Froschauer said.
Freshman forward Abdi Mohammed, who was named to the Big Ten’s all-freshman team, said he has confidence in the Buckeyes’ defense, and the entire team is on a mission to shut Rutgers down.
Culbertson claims a national honor
After leading the Buckeyes to a win over both Michigan and Penn State, senior midfielder Kyle Culbertson was named College Player of the Week by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
“Kyle is a very good player, and he’s one of our better players. Well deserved, the recognition he got nationally,” Bluem said.
Culbertson has been a major contributor to the Scarlet and Gray offense. He leads the team with six goals and five assists.
Three of those goals scored by Culbertson came last week after a pair of strong performances by the senior. He scored two goals against Michigan, leading the team to a clinch of the Big Ten regular-season title, followed by the game-winning goal against Penn State in overtime in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.
The final two teams will face off head-to-head in the Big Ten championship game at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. The winner of OSU and Rutgers will meet the winner of the other semifinal match between No. 2 Indiana and No. 3 Maryland on Sunday.