Sam Maller | Staff PhotographerMen's soccer
Muller’s goal lifts Syracuse to 2-1 victory over Rutgers in overtime
With last season in the back of his mind, Ian McIntyre broke the huddle before overtime with a necessary message for his players.
“Be tough,” the Syracuse head coach said. “This is a game we know we can win. We know it.”
McIntyre’s team rarely displayed that kind of mindset in 2011. But on Wednesday, Syracuse (9-3, 2-1 Big East) exhibited the type of mental toughness in a 2-1 overtime win against Rutgers (5-4, 1-2) in front of 1,026 at SU Soccer Stadium that was missing in six of its seven overtime games last year.
Senior Lars Muller gave SU its second Big East win with a leaping header with 7:55 to go in the first overtime period. Jordan Murrell launched his second of two corner kick assists to the head of Muller, who sent it beyond the diving reach of Scarlet Knights goalkeeper Kevin McMullen.
As the ball rolled in for the game-winning goal, the home bench exploded in celebration. Syracuse clinched its ninth overall win on the season — the most for the program since 1999.
“The turnaround is unbelievable,” SU midfielder Ted Cribley said of the postgame celebration. “It lifts us, especially when you’ve been bottled up for such a long time in overtime games.”
That landmark win nearly slipped away from the Orange late in Wednesday night’s game, though.
With 17:25 left in the first period, Murrell crossed to Jordan Vale from a corner kick for SU’s first goal. The Orange maintained its one-goal lead while attacking the Scarlet Knights defense with long runs by Cribley and deep passes into the box.
Cribley said SU was trying to take advantage of a foggy and damp atmosphere at SU Soccer Stadium that caused several players to slip during the game.
“If we could get a ball in the box and cause someone to slip up, that could be another goal,” Cribley said. “It was a strategy we’ve used before and we felt that we could take advantage of the field conditions tonight.”
That strategy held for the majority of the game. And behind a retooled backline that featured freshman Tyler Hilliard, Rutgers couldn’t even muster a shot until there were 38 minutes left in the second period.
But SU let up with 15 minutes left. A late offside call on Cribley gave McMullen a free kick outside the Rutgers box. Scarlet Knights goalkeeper Kevin McMullen launched the ball downfield, but RU midfielder Mael Corboz fell down and drew another foul 30 yards out.
Corboz took the ensuing free kick and sent it to the left post, where Rutgers’ leading scorer Kene Eze headed it past Alex Bono for the game-tying goal.
SU collapsed under similar circumstances last year. But as Rutgers tied a game that the Orange dominated until that point, McIntyre didn’t feel like he needed to tell his players anything.
“They already knew what was at stake,” McIntyre said. “We’ve known it all along. So I said nothing because we all knew that we should be winning this game.”
McIntyre saved the rallying speech for the beginning of overtime. And as Muller heard his coach implore his team to play tougher, the forward said he took it personally.
Muller had been swarmed all night by the Rutgers backline. But with one, perfectly timed header three minutes into overtime, he helped SU notch its ninth win and seize its best record in more than a decade.
“We’re mentally tougher this year,” Muller said. “We just had this extra power we needed to win this game tonight. I’m just happy and excited about where we are tonight.”
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