Sam Kroeger is emerging as a force for Rutgers women’s soccer.
Last year, Samantha Kroeger’s role with the Rutgers women’s soccer team was very much of the blue-collar variety, doing the dirty work so the team’s star players could shine. This year, however, Kroeger has been off to a flashing hot start as the junior attacker has three goals in the last two games.
Those three goals, coincidentally, have come via her head, her right foot and then her left foot.
In her first two years with the Scarlet Knights, Kroeger played a bit further away from goal at times. With an unrelenting work ethic, she was tasked with making hard runs to press the opposing backline.
Her industry led to turnovers and much appreciation among her teammates but little in the way of headlines. In her first two seasons across 41 games – all starts – Kroeger tallied six goals and seven assists. Solid numbers, but nothing like she is producing this year.
The junior from West Milford High School (West Milford, N.J.) is already at four goals and two assists through the first six games of the 2022 season. She scored the opening two goals of Sunday’s 3-0 win over Princeton.
Both Kroeger goals were scored in the opening two minutes of the match, setting the tone early for Rutgers, now 6-0.
“As an upperclassman, my role this year is in the attacking third to score as many goals as possible, and I want to influence our play as much as possible, both on and off the field,” Kroeger told RutgersWire following Sunday’s win over Princeton.
“And I think that we’ve talked about so much about field presence and I’m coming along with that and my hope is to just continue to do that throughout the season, especially when we come into Big Ten play. Scoring as many goals now and getting my confidence up here is going to help me succeed in Big Ten play, hopefully,”
The Sunday win by Rutgers avenges a bad regular season loss last year where Rutgers blew a 2-0 halftime lead to Princeton. The Ivy League program is a perenially solid squad, one that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season.
As for Kroeger, her growth and development in the final third is important as Rutgers looks to offset the loss of Amirah Ali and Frankie Tagliaferi. The dynamic duo last year, now in the NWSL, was the best scoring tandem in the Big Ten last year.
That’s where Kroeger’s maturation is important for Rutgers. With her high work rate and strong tactical acumen, she has nuanced the position even more. She is making smarter runs this year, showcasing her ability to finish.
“I always try and be in the best position as possible to attack but also defend at the same time,” Kroeger said.
“So I think that just my positioning, balancing it out and splitting the difference instead of stepping so far, back because we trust our backline to do the dirty work and I think that either Riley Tiernan or our wingers, whoever the winger is, is our first look and we’re trying to strike (on goal) in as few passes as possible.”
Kroeger’s positioning and understanding of the role with Rutgers is an important part of what appears to be a reloading of the program under head coach Mike O’Neil. Despite losing some talented seniors such as the aforementioned Ali and Tagliaferri as well as the under-appreciated Gabby Provenzano, Rutgers is rolling along nicely.
The Scarlet Knights are favored to repeat atop the Big Ten this year and are looking every bit as dangerous as the team that made the College Cup last season.
“What she recognizes for us to be successful is that she needs to have a key role in our attack and so her game is at a different level,” O’Neil said after Sunday’s win.
“We’re not surprised – Sammi is a talented, talented player. I look at like, I think this year – she’s a good player and she’s simply taken her game to another level. And that’s what you ask.
“Sammi’s tactical IQ is at a different level. She understands the game so well. For us, we have a way we want to play. We want them to understand and see the game and take what the game gives them. So many of them understand that and Sammy is certainly one of them.”
[mm-video type=video id=01gbaxf3ekn7ewhj628t playlist_id=none player_id=none image=https://images2.minutemediacdn.com/image/upload/video/thumbnail/mmplus/01gbaxf3ekn7ewhj628t/01gbaxf3ekn7ewhj628t-3a5145249a1a32292261e2092d87e434.jpg]