Fresh off a porous defensive performance in a 4-0 loss to Northwestern, chances looked bleak for Nebraska soccer against conference foe Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights entered Thursday's match as the No.19 ranked team in the nation, and sat tied for first place in the conference.
And, despite all the signs pointing to a rout of the Huskers given their recent poor performances, Nebraska stood its ground for a full match. The draw was one of the team’s finest accomplishments to date in an otherwise dismal season.
Nebraska employed a 4-4-2 system against the Scarlet Knights, with two rows, one of defenders and one of midfielders, backing up a partnership of two pressing forwards, all behind the ball. As a result, Nebraska had few chances throughout the match.
Despite managing 10 shots in total, many of the Huskers’ chances came from outside the box or off set pieces.
The team’s finest opportunity came in the 59th minute when, fresh off an interplay which released senior defender Theresa Pujado down the left wing, Pujado’s whipped-in cross met the boot of freshman forward Gwen Lane. However, the cross sliced off of Lane’s boot and dribbled off for a Rutgers goal kick.
Without that, quality inside-the-box chances were hard to come by for the Huskers. In the 23rd minute, junior forward Natalie Cooke seized upon a buckled Rutgers’ defense to take a shot from around the penalty spot, but the effort was saved easily.
The player of the match for Nebraska was sophomore goalkeeper Makinzie Short. Short had a poor performance overall against Northwestern, but responded with a talismanic performance against the conference leaders.
Short registered 10 saves in total and kept a clean sheet to end the game, and was one of the sole reasons for the draw overall. Rutgers dominated the match on shots, registering 29 to the Huskers’ 10. The majority of this offensive barrage came in the second half of both normal and extra time.
Not coincidentally, the majority of Short’s saves were concentrated in this time period as well. Five of her saves came in the second half of normal time and three in the second period of extra time.
With six minutes left to go in the game, an errant tackle from a Nebraska midfielder led to Rutgers freshman forward Allison Lowery breaking completely free in the box, one-on-one with Short.
To the forward’s left was a coterie of Nebraska defenders, so Short had to focus on closing down the space and covering her near post before anything else. Lowery attempted to take a couple of touches to set up a near post low drive, but Short read it and batted the ball away.
Another important save came in Rutgers’ second-half onslaught, where a number of bobbled passes eventually led to an impressive first time strike from Lowery. Despite curving away from goal, and dipping wildly in turn, Short reacted quick enough to tip the ball over the bar, preventing another goal.
Still, regardless of Short’s heroics, it took a considerable amount of luck to edge out the draw. With seven minutes left in the game a corner was floated to the near post, but Short punched the ball away.
Unfortunately for the Huskers, Short’s punch fell calmly to Rutgers senior forward Nneka Moneme, who attempted to seal the win for Rutgers. However, Nebraska managed what it couldn’t against Northwestern and cleared the ball off the line through a defensive wall that had formed at the face of goal.
The clearance, however, was weak and the ball opened for Rutgers senior midfielder Gabby Provenzano. A 50/50 challenge led to another goal opportunity falling out of play.
Nebraska’s next game will be against another top team in the conference in 6-1-1 Penn State. That match will take place on March 28 at 11:35 a.m. in Hibner Stadium.