The Rutgers Scarlet Knights men’s soccer team will kick off the 2022 preseason with two games against Omaha and Creighton universities in Nebraska before coming back home to Piscataway for their first game of the regular season.
Last year, Rutgers went 9-6-2, which was their first winning record since 2015 but missed out on the NCAA tournament due to their below average record against the Big Ten conference. However, behind strong returning and freshman classes, head coach Jim McElderry thinks the Scarlet Knights can build on that success.
I was happy with our group last year. We played well in some very important games. Losing to Indiana in the first round of the playoffs after beating them at their place earlier in the season was tough but, that’s what happens when you play in a conference like this, every game is super competitive and that’s why kids want to come here and play. - Rutgers men's soccer coach, Jim McElderry
Two key returning players whom Rutgers will rely on are midfielder Jackson Temple and Thomas DeVizio, a senior defender from Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Temple led the team with six goals last season, while DeVizio led the team with five assists, which makes them both key parts of the offense.
Coach McElderry described what some of his team's goals will be for the season ahead.
"For us it’s about, can we compete with the best teams in the country. Our roster is improved from last year, whether it’s the players returning or bringing in some Freshman who can push our returning guys and bring different elements into the game."
Strong Ties to the Garden State
Fifteen of the 30 players on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights roster are from the Garden State. This includes two incoming freshmen, Ian Abbey and Nestor Cabrera, who have experience playing within the systems of two local Major League Soccer (MLS) teams. Cabrera played for the Red Bulls academy and has trained with the Guatemalan national team at the U-17-20 levels, while Abbey has appeared for the Philadelphia Union II in the United Soccer League Championship.
A pair of New Jersey native sophomores, Joey Zalinsky and Matthew Acosta gained experience playing with the New York Red Bulls II during 2020. Last season, both were named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team and will be important pieces to the Rutgers puzzle as sophomores this season.
The team’s leadership will center around two graduate students who have returned for one last season with Rutgers men's soccer. They are defender DeVizio and midfielder Pablo Avila. DeVizio has played for Rutgers since 2018, which was one year before Coach McElderry took over and McElderry discussed what he has done to help the team succeed.
“Tommy arrived here before I was here. He’s been someone that handled the transition of new coaching staff incredibly well. He’s really bought into everything that we’re selling, and he’s been amazing for us.”
As far as Avila, McElderry described the 22-year-old from Spain as a very technically gifted player who has suffered some injuries over the last few seasons. However, coach added that Avila has worked hard to rebound from those injuries this offseason and that both Avila and DeVizio are great people as well.
"Both of those guys, I can’t say enough about them as guys as well, academically they put a lot of time in, they lead by example, and I feel lucky that they’re back here."
Rutgers will kick off their preseason with two games in Nebraska. The first is on Aug. 25 against the University of Nebraska Omaha and the second three days later against Creighton. Their season will begin on Sept. 2 against rival Princeton who they defeated 1-0 the last time they met on Sept. 3, 2021.
Anthony graduated from Montclair State University, where he covered a variety of sports for three years. He co-hosts a sports-themed radio show on campus radio station, WMSC 90.3 FM, which was recently named #1 college radio station in the nation.