The Ohio State men’s soccer team (5-1-0) will look for their fifth consecutive shutout against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-4-1) when the teams face off in Piscataway, New Jersey, Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Buckeyes are one shutout away from tying the program record of five consecutive shutouts set by the 2007 team, which finished as the runner-up in the College Cup.
Ohio State is off to its best start to a season in 12 years and senior defender Kevin Blackwood has not been surprised by the team’s early success.
“It’s based on what we did in the summer, I came here earlier before I transferred and a lot of the guys were talking about going and doing actual work on their own, getting that head start before the season actually started,” Blackwood said. “Basically, I think it’s hard work and dedication. The comradery of the team has been phenomenal and that’s one of the reasons for the start so far.”
The Buckeyes are coming off a commanding 3-0 win against Penn State at Jesse Memorial Stadium Tuesday, while the Scarlet Knights are coming off a 3-0 loss against No. 3 Maryland. All four Rutgers losses have come at the hands of top-15 opponents.
Senior defender Hunter Robertson said despite the four losses on Rutgers’ record, the Buckeyes will still need to treat Rutgers as they would any other tough opponent as Rutgers’ only losses have come against some stiff competition.
“It’s a Big Ten game we really want to get three points from them, but we know that those four losses were against some really good teams — Indiana, Maryland, Wake Forest, North Carolina,” Robertson said. “They didn’t get the best results against them, but they’re going to be battle tested and we know if we want to win we have to come in and play really hard and be really efficient to score goals.”
The Buckeyes will look to contain one of Rutgers’ top weapons, redshirt senior forward Ethan Vanacore-Decker, who leads the team with five points (two goals, one assist). Robertson said that with the talent Rutgers has on the offensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes will need to deploy a more defensive approach to the game.
“We are playing with two midfielders holding back, more than usual,” Robertson said. “Usually, we have two of them on attack, but they have a pretty special attacking mid and a fast forward, so we’re trying to keep someone on this attacking mid at all times, so when they try to play the long ball we have someone to cover because the kid’s really fast.”
The team is looking ahead for the chance to win its sixth game and is beginning to focus on what they must do to come away with the victory.
“We just have to be locked in, ready to go, we cannot take them lightly,” Blackwood said. “I know this is the Big Ten, every team we play from now on is going to be really good. Match their intensity, work hard for 90 minutes, and be tuned in.”