Despite an overtime loss in its final match, Maryland ended the regular season playing its best soccer of the year. After a 2-1 loss to No. 2 Indiana, the Terrapins rattled off three consecutive victories, including a huge win over then-No. 7 Denver.
Maryland hasn’t received any votes in the United Soccer Coaches Poll in quite some time, but RPI ranks them as the No. 21 team in the country. The Terps’ resume is pretty strong, but a 7-6-3 record isn’t attractive by any means. The Terrapins are better than their record shows, but whether the tournament committee realizes that or not will remain to be seen.
However, if they want to greatly improve their chances of clinching a berth, they just have to do one thing: win the Big Ten Tournament.
Maryland’s first obstacle in achieving that goal will be in the form of No. 17 Michigan State. In the first meeting between these teams on Oct. 5, the Spartans rolled to a 2-0 victory at Ludwig Field.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET and can be seen on BTN Plus.
No. 17 Michigan State Spartans (10-4-4, 4-2-2 Big Ten)
2017 record: 13-4-4 (5-0-3 Big Ten)
Head coach Damon Rensing is in his 10th season in charge of the Spartans, but he’s been a part of Michigan State’s program for 25 years now. Since being given the keys to the castle, Rensing has compiled a 113-65-30 record, and he’s established the Spartans as a perennial contender. Under his leadership, Michigan State has made seven NCAA Tournament appearances, most recently reaching the Elite Eight in 2017.
Players to know
Senior forward Ryan Sierakowski, No. 11. Now in his fourth year with the program, Sierakowski has started in all 70 games he has appeared in since arriving in East Lansing. Through 17 games this season, he is second on the the team with 14 points, having a balanced stat line of five goals and four assists thus far. Across his previous three seasons, Sierakowski averaged 8.3 goals and 3.66 assists.
Redshirt senior goalkeeper Jimmy Hague, No. 1. Last season’s Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, Hague finished his junior campaign with an incredible 0.62 goals-against average, and he also had 11 shutouts in 20 matches. This season, Hague has matched last year’s production, as he currently ranks No. 16 in the nation with a 0.67 goals-against average.
Scoring. Michigan State’s attack has slowed a bit as the regular season has reached its culmination, but it’s still one of the better units in soccer. The Spartans have averaged 1.65 goals per game so far this season, which ranks T-51st nationally. Led by Sierakowski, fellow senior DeJuan Jones and junior Giuseppe Barone they can score in a flash.
Shooting. As the scoring has decreased in recent weeks, so has the number of shots the Spartans have been able to take. They average 12.82 shots per game, which slots them in at No. 3 in the Big Ten and T-68th in the country. The relatively low quantity of shots didn’t matter as much to start the year, but it’s caught up with them lately.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland bounce back? The Terrapins had won three matches in a row heading into the season finale in Ann Arbor, but allowing an overtime goal less than a minute in gave Michigan the victory. However, they still look completely different than they did to start the season, giving them a much better chance of knocking off another ranked opponent.
2. Does Michigan State figure things out? The Spartans are in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens, but they still have a lot to play for. Besides seeding, they need to get out of the rut that presented itself to close the regular season. Michigan State ended with a 1-2-2 record following the win over Maryland, and if that run continues, a quick exit in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments could be in store.
3. Does Maryland “need” this win? There’s no doubt whatsoever that winning on the road against a top-25 team in Michigan State would nearly guarantee a NCAA Tournament berth, but the looming question is whether a loss would eliminate Maryland from contention. Failing to get a road victory would leave the Terps with a 7-7-3 record, but their RPI would likely remain among the best in the nation. Head coach Sasho Cirovski has been quiet on the topic, but as soon as the season ends, he’ll likely open up on the team’s chances.