WHO: Michigan State Spartans @ Maryland Terrapins
WHAT: Men's soccer B1G Conference opener
WHERE: Ludwig Field, University of Maryland College Park
WHEN: Friday, September 19, 2014 at 8:00 pm
What does the Michigan State Spartans soccer team have in common with their football team? The one word answer: Defense. Okay, even I know that the Oregon Ducks hung 46 points on the vaunted Spartans defense earlier this season but it was largely the defense that carried MSU to a 13-1 record and Rose Bowl win over Stanford last season. Well, when the Michigan State soccer team comes to Ludwig Field in Maryland's Big Ten Conference home opener Friday night, they will bring not only a 3-1-1 record and the number 16 ranking in the most recent coaches' poll, they will also bring a defense that has yielded exactly one goal in the first five games of the season.
Could this be a problem for a Terrapins squad that has had trouble finding the back of the net thus far this season? As they say in the more northern reaches of B1G country, "Ya betcha." Can the Terps have a breakthrough game? Once again, "Ya betcha."
According to the Michigan State website, in 1925, the Michigan Agricultural College became Michigan State College. The college sponsored a contest to replace the name "Aggies" and chose "The Michigan Staters." The sports editor of the Lansing State Journal thought the name was too cumbersome. He found another contest entry that had suggested "Spartans" and chose that. It stuck and the rest is history. (Not as much fun as reading about the anal glands on a wolverine, I know, but I can only report what I read.)
Spartans on the pitch
The preseason Big Ten Coaches' poll placed MSU second just behind the Terps. The Spartans are coming off a season in which they finished third in the B1G with a 3-2-1 record. In the post season, they reached the conference final where they dropped a 1-0 decision to Indiana before going on to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. There they lost 2-1 to the eventual national champions, Notre Dame. They finished with a program record 14 wins with 12 of those coming by shutout. The Spartans picked up a 13th shutout in a 0-0 tie with Akron. For the season, Michigan State conceded only 17 goals in 23 games.
The Spartans return their top three goal scorers from last season - Tim Kreutz, Adam Montague, and Jay Chapman who accounted for 17 goals collectively. Kreutz, who led MSU with nine goals in 2013, has not scored thus far this season and didn't play in the Spartans' recent 1-0 win over Loyola of Chicago. They have, however, continued their strong play on the defensive end of the pitch recording four shutouts in their first five games and in their loss to Valparaiso they yielded only a single goal.
While their defense has, indeed, been spartan, their offense has not overwhelmed anyone. Like the Terrapins, the Spartans have scored only five goals in five games and three of those came in a home game against Florida International. Michigan State has yet to find a go to scorer as their five goals have come off the feet of five different players.
Players to Watch
Fatai Alashe, #27, senior, midfielder / forward. Alashe was not among the top returning scorers for the Spartans but was selected as one of MSU's three representatives on the B1G players to watch list. Though he leads Michigan State in shots attempted and has a respectable .455 shots on goal percentage, his lone score to date has come on a penalty kick.
Jason Stacy, #20, junior, midfielder. Though he was not chosen as a preseason player to watch, I'm including Stacy because he has picked up three assists in MSU's first five games. Given that the Spartans have scored only five goals, I think this makes him someone worthy of attention.
Zach Bennett, #1, junior, goalkeeper. Bennett finished 2013 with a 0.70 goals against average (GAA) and a .878 save percentage. In 2014, he's picked up right where he left off and then some. His GAA through five games is a microscopic .019 and he has increased his save percentage to .917. This alone would merit his inclusion on a players to watch list but his name may raise an issue for the Crew. Will they taunt Bennett with their typical chant of 'YOU SUCK, ZACH!' on goal kicks or will they have to change things up?
Though Friday's game will be only the seventh meeting all-time between the two programs, history heavily favors the Spartans who will bring a 4-1-1 record into College Park. The Terps' lone win came in 1998 - a 1-0 shutout. The teams last met to open the 2010 season with Michigan State getting the 4-3 result at College Park.