With over 75 years of intercollegiate competition, the tradition of excellence which survived a World War, five coaches and some drastic programmatic changes, the Rutgers men’s soccer program enters its next phase as members of the Big Ten in 2014.
When the program began in 1938, George Dochat, a teacher in the physical education department, was appointed as the first head coach. He would remain there until his retirement in 1970. In his long and respected career, Dochat became the winningest coach in the program’s history with a 141-118-21 record.
The 1940s served as the building decade for Dochat. His teams played a traditional schedule of Princeton, Lehigh, Lafayette, Bucknell, Trenton State, Ursinus and Muhlenberg and had just three winning seasons in the decade. In 1947 through, a 10-2-2 record served as the prelude to the 1950’s, a decade in which the program took off. The program missed three years of competition in the mid-1940s due to World War II.
After splitting 28 games in the first four years of the fifties, the 1955 side, captained by Art Brinkmann, opened the season with five victories and finished the year at 9-2. Brinkmann, the first All-American at The State University, scored all six goals in the 6-1 win over Muhlenberg.
The team matched the 9-2 record in 1958, winning a then-record nine consecutive games. Seven of the nine wins came by shutout.
In 1959, the NCAA began sponsoring the Division I Soccer Championships. Dochat and the Scarlet Knights missed out on an invitation to the first tournament, but earned bids to the next two. The 1960 team lost in the opening round to Drexel, but the 1961 season saw RU win in the opening round against Brockport State. Captained by Herb Schmidt, the Scarlet Knights’ first two-time soccer All-American, Schmidt would close out his career as Rutgers’ all-time leading scorer. His name still stands second in NCAA record books with 90 career scores.
In entirety, Dochat finished out his career leading the program to a 66-38-7 record in the 1960’s along with guiding All-Americans Steve Fuller and Richard Schiesswohl. Dochat retired as one of the legends of Rutgers Athletics. His 30-year career was one of the longest of any coach at The State University and his dedication to Rutgers as an administrator and coach prompted the naming of the Rutgers Soccer Sportsmanship Award in his memory.
The following decade was a struggle for the Scarlet Knights as the program tried to recuperate from the loss of its originator. J. Williams Matyas, the freshman coach under Docaht in the 1960s, and Kalman Csapo both tried to get the ball rolling.
Bob Reasso was named head coach in 1981 and in over two decades “On the Banks” brought Rutgers men’s soccer to new heights. Two years after taking over the program, Reasso and Rutgers captured an undefeated season in 1983 and the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 22 years. Dave Masur earned two All-America selections, which was RU’s first such selection since the 1960s.
Winning ways continued for the Scarlet Knights throughout the early 1980s including a 10-6-2 mark in 1984 and 12-3-4 record in 1985. The 1986 campaign, the first in which RU was able to play games under the lights at the Rutgers Stadium Complex, saw the Scarlet Knights finish with an 11-7-2 ledger. During this time, Bobby Joe Esposito became one of the most prolific scorers in Rutgers history, leading the Scarlet Knights in scoring in all four of his seasons and beginning a long line of All-Americans during the Reasso-era.
A season later in 1987, Rutgers won its first NCAA tournament match with a 2-1 victory over Seton Hall with Peter Vermes named All-American and a finalist for National Player of the Year.
In 1989, the Scarlet Knights took the soccer world by storm and earned its first trip to the Final Four in a season that saw RU reach the 20-win mark and Alexi Lalas and Lino DiCuollo named All-Americans.
That feat was bettered a year later as RU went all the way to the national championship game before losing to UCLA in a penalty kick shootout. Reasso was named the National Coach of the Year, as his Scarlet Knights had knocked off previously unbeaten and No. 1 ranked Evansville and won its first Atlantic-10 championship. Steve Rammel was the runner-up for the Hermann Award and netminder Bill Andracki was named an All-American after shutting out Evansville and UCLA.
The 1991 season was filled with firsts for the Scarlet Knights. RU boasted their first ever National Player of the Year in Alexi Lalas, earning the coveted Hermann Award. The Scarlet Knights also picked up their first ever No. 1 national ranking for any sport following a school-record 13-game winning streak. Rutgers went on to compile a 19-3-1 record and a No. 4 national ranking before dropping a hard-fought 3-2 decision to SMU played in front of a boisterous crowd of over 7,000.
It was a year of growing pains for the neophyte Knights in 1992 that was followed the next season by a return to the elite of college soccer. In 1993, RU finished with a 17-5-1 record and ranked No. 7 in the final poll with a first round NCAA Tournament appearance. RU won its third Atalntic-10 championship in four years and Pedro Lopes was named a First Team All-American.
Rutgers moved to a new home in 1994 with the opening of Yurcak Field, considered by many then and still today, to be one of the finest collegiate pitches in America. The Scarlet Knights turned in a disappointing regular season under the pressure of national expectations, but the postseason was an entirely different story. Rutgers ran off six-consecutive wins, all of which seemed to be pulled from the jaws of defeat, to gain its third Final Four
berth in six seasons. Defensive stalwart Alan Branigan earned All-America honors for keeping some of the nation’s top scorers at bay.
The Scarlet Knights entered new territory in 1995, becoming a member of the BIG EAST Conference and started the season as the top-ranked choice by Soccer Magazine. Starting the season off with a 9-1-1 start against a tough non-conference schedule, Rutgers reached the semifinals of the BIG EAST Tournament in their first appearance. Rutgers set a school-record with an average attendance of 2,935 leading the nation in attendance for the second straight year.
With a line up of mostly underclassmen and some untested rookies in 1996, the Scarlet Knights played another rigorous schedule and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament thanks in large part to a shootout win over St. John’s, that season’s eventual national champion, in the BIG EAST semifinals. Rutgers defeated Cornell to open up NCAA play but fell, 2-1, in the second round to Florida International, a squad that went on to face St. John’s in the national championship game.
The 1997 season saw Rutgers bring home the BIG EAST title defeating defending national champion St. John’s in overtime and advancing to NCAA action for the eighth time in 11 seasons. Billy Walsh was named a finalist for National Player of the Year.
Despite being nationally ranked for much of the 1998 campaign, RU just missed out on an NCAA bid as Jon Conway was named the inaugural BIG EAST Goalkeeper of the Year. Conway recorded eight shutouts, including six in conference contests.
Rutgers fashioned a 12-6-3 record in 1999, a record that included an 8-1-2 BIG EAST showing and a regular season conference title. Conway was named the conference Goalkeeper of the Year for the second straight season as the Scarlet Knights earned their 12th NCAA trip, falling to Yale, 1-0, in a thrilling, double-overtime match.
Despite losing key players in 2000, Rutgers entered the new millennium posting its 20th consecutive winning season and 18th straight year of 10 or more victories. The following year, RU spent the majority of the 2001 season ranked in the top ten nationally and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. After beating Harvard in the opening round, Rutgers stunned defending national champion Connecticut, 2-1, in overtime on the Huskies home field, giving Reasso his 300th career victory.
The Scarlet Knights ended the 2001 campaign ranked ninth nationally and Dennis Ludwig was named the BIG EAST Offensive player of the Year. All-American defender Guy Abrahamson was also a catalyst for an offense that registered 44 goals and allowed only 28.
The injury bug hit RU hard in 2002. Starting the season ranked seventh, the Knights lost seven players from its preseason roster, including two of its three senior captains, and finished at just 8-8-3 with a BIG EAST quarterfinal appearance.
Rutgers returned to postseason action in 2003 led by All-American and BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year Josh Gros. Storming through the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a 3-1 victory over Lafayette, RU’s season came to a close with a 3-2 defeat to Akron and an 11-7-4 mark.
The 2004 season was an injury-riddled season, resulting in only 17 goals en route to a 6-8-4 record. Despite an upset of No. 3 Michigan and a defense that surrendered just 16 goals, Reasso suffered his first losing season in 23 seasons.
Rutgers overcame slow starts the next two seasons. After starting 2-6 in 2005, the Scarlet Knights finished strong, going 6-2-1 in its final games. The 2006 season saw RU start 1-5 but bounce back going 9-1 over its final 10 games, including a nine-game unbeaten streak to end the season to reach the first round of NCAA Tournament play.
At the end of the 2009, Reasso resigned from Rutgers, an institution where he had spent 29 seasons as head coach and registered an astounding record of 351-183-71, including 13 NCAA Tournament appearances. Reasso coached 15 Scarlet Knights to All-American status during his reign and over 50 former student-athletes since 1987 have gone on to play professional soccer in both the United States and aboard, carrying the tradition of success beyond the confines of Yurcak Field and the Banks of the Raritan.
Another New Jersey son returned home to guide the Scarlet Knights into the future. Dan Donigan arrived ‘On the Banks’ after nine successful seasons at Saint Louis University, where the Hamilton, N.J., native led the Billikens to seven NCAA appearances.
After a four-year postseason drought, Donigan, in his second season in 2011, helped guide RU to an at-large NCAA Tournament selection, the Knights first since 2006. Rutgers returned to the post-season after recording one of the best turnarounds in BIG EAST history. After going just 1-8 in conference play the previous season, Rutgers rebounded with a 6-2-1 BIG EAST record and finished second in the red division. The Scarlet Knights did not stop at just qualifying for the conference tournament. Instead the squad made a splash getting past first round NCAA opponent Colgate and upsetting No. 4 seed and eighth-ranked Boston College en route to the Sweet 16. The third round matchup with UCLA marked the first Sweet 16 appearance for RU since 2001.
In addition to a stellar postseason run, the coaching staff also collected some hardware as Donigan was recognized as the NSCAA Northeast Region Coach of the Year and Dave Beck was named the NSCAA Assistant Northeast Coach of the Year.
The hallmark of playing the best in the nation continued with the 2012 slate under Donigan. The Scarlet Knights closed out the 2012 campaign, their final in the BIG EAST, ranked at No. 35 in the RPI, just missing out on an NCAA berth. The Scarlet Knights took on six opponents that reached the 2012 NCAA Tournament, including national runner-up Georgetown and Final Four participant Creighton.
In their lone season in the American Athletic Conference in 2013, the Scarlet Knights made a late post-season run, reaching the semifinals of conference tournament in dramatic fashion. RU battled injuries to several key personnel throughout the campaign, but once the Scarlet Knights were near full strength at the end of the year, Rutgers was a feared program in the post-season. Seeded eighth in the American, the Scarlet Knights began tournament play with a 5-1 play-in victory over Cincinnati. Kene Eze, who would go on to become the first MLS draft pick of the Donigan Era, exploded for eight points on four goals – the most goals by an American Athletic Conference player in 2013 and the most by a Scarlet Knight since 2006. Rutgers then went on to upset the tournament top-seed and seventh-ranked Louisville, 1-0, the very next day on the Cardinals’ home turf. The Scarlet Knights advanced to play USF in the American semifinal’s at Toyota Park in Frisco, Texas. A trip to the AAC championship game came down to double overtime with RU falling 2-1 to the eventual champions.
The 2014 season starts the next chapter in the rich and storied tradition of Rutgers men’s soccer as play in the prestigious Big Ten beings. The Scarlet Knights will once again face another challenging schedule as RU will play eight NCAA Tournament teams from the previous season, with six of those teams coming from the Big Ten. Yurcak Field will play host to 12 regular season contests, including four Big Ten matches that include national runner-up Maryland, Big Ten Tournament champion Indiana, as well as NCAA Tournament participants Northwestern and Michigan. RU’s home schedule also features Ivy League champions, Pennsylvania, and the Missouri Valley Conference champions, Bradley. As always, the Scarlet Knights never shy away from taking on the best to become the best.
The tradition of Rutgers Soccer has been developed through the years by some very dedicated and respected people. It is the hard work of the players, as instilled by coaches like the Dochat, Reasso and Donigan, that have given Rutgers men’s soccer that winning record, and more importantly, a winning tradition.