Andreas Lindberg, Seton Hall men’s soccer coach, felt torn as he watched the Rutgers take on Indiana in Sunday’s Big Ten tournament finals. Both the Scarlet Knights and its Pirates sat squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble.
Rutgers prevailed, securing an automatic bid and bringing the pirates closer to the cliff, but Lindberg saw the big picture.
“It was so exciting to watch,” Lindberg said. “These are great guys. Even though I knew it might hurt us if they walked in, I still cheered them on. I think it’s great for local football in this area.”
The Hall came in anyway and got a call at the very end of Monday’s selection show.
“It was absolutely brutal,” Lindberg said of the wait, “but when we heard our name, the guys went nuts.”
This is a stellar week for Division I men’s soccer in New Jersey, with Rutgers, Seton Hall and Northeast Conference champion Fairleigh Dickinson comprising all 48 teams. Everyone opens the bracket on the street Thursday – Rutgers in Penn, Seton Hall in New Hampshire and FDU in Maryland.
It’s a throwback to the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s, when jersey teams routinely went deep into the NCAAs. It’s also a reminder of what’s possible in this state that produces many players and is a welcoming place for colleagues from other countries. In the Garden State, soccer has long been a priority among the so-called Olympic sports; the potential is obvious.
“No surprise,” said Rutgers coach Jim McElderry. “We have a really sophisticated (football) clientele here in New Jersey.”
Of the three, Rutgers has the most native talent. Two of the Scarlet Knights’ top three goalscorers in the Big Ten Finals were Jersey boys (North Hunterdon High School graduate Matthew Acosta and Salem County’s Ian Abbey).
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“When I came here, that was important to me,” said McElderry, who is from Ramsey. “We want to win games, but I also see it as an advantage to have a group of players from New Jersey. I think they can compete at a high level. It makes sense for New Jersey State University and we’re lucky to have a lot of talented players here.”
Seton Hall has 10 New Jerseyers on the list, but most of them are younger and in supporting roles. Defenseman Mark Walier, a junior at Holmdel High School, is among a core of holdovers from the Pirates team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament in Spring 2021. That was the first sign of a renaissance in Garden State men’s football from a losing cycle.
“We know the rich history of Jersey,” Lindberg said. “It’s just further proof that it’s possible.”
Thursday’s first round matchups
Rutgers (10-4-6) at Penn (12-2-2), 7 p.m
This is Rutgers’ first NCAA game since 2015. Ivy League champions Quakers finished 23rdapprox in the current top 25 and 13th in the RPI. The Scarlet Knights are 0-0-2 against Ivy this season. The winner visits Syracuse on Sunday, third overall in the tournament.
“We’re a little disappointed that we didn’t get a home game,” said McElderry. “But there’s so much that goes into the selection process and how they do things that we just can’t think about.”
Seton Hall (7-3-7) in New Hampshire (2-4), 6 p.m. (ESPN+)
America East champion New Hampshire is 22ndnd in the current top 25 and 19th in the RPI (RPI of Seton Hall is 38th). They faced a common foe: the Wildcats lost 1-0 to Providence; Seton Hall bound the brothers. The winner visits 10th Total seed FIU Sunday.
“New Hampshire is very, very good, but we’ve played teams of their caliber at least five or six times this year,” Lindberg said.
FDU in Maryland, 6 p.m. (ESPN+)
The Knights (10-5-3) are making their first appearance for the NCAA since 2019. Their 3-2 loss to a Wake Forest ranked squad earlier this season shows they can keep up with the big boys. Maryland (10-3-5) is the regular-season Big Ten champion.
“I would say that in football more than in any other sport, the less talented team can give the superior team a hard time or possibly beat them,” said longtime FDU coach Seth Roland, who has been leading the program deep into the tournament Has . “That’s the nature of the game.”
Jerry Carino has been covering the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and covering college basketball since 2003. He is a top 25 contributor to the Associated Press. Contact him at [email protected].