Nov. 15, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan State men's soccer team (12-4-3) earned its third-straight shutout with a 1-0 victory over Northwestern (10-7-3) in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal on Friday afternoon. With the win, the Spartans advance to the Big Ten championship game for the second-straight season with hopes of defending their 2012 title.
"Our guys gutted it out," said head coach Damon Rensing. "It was a true team effort. The subs came on and gave good energy. It was just a great team win. We knew Northwestern pushed some things forward. I thought the backline was very good - Andrew Herr, (Ryan) Thelen, obviously (Ryan) Keener and (Kevin) Cope. I think people saw that Kevin Cope was a little banged up. Zach Bennett caught a ton of crosses and dealt with stuff. Keener and Cope headed a lot of crosses away. Fatai was good. I thought we were good at getting a lot of loose balls today, and that was important. We got a lot of the second balls, cleaned it up and played. It was just a great, total team defensive effort and our third-straight shutout."
Both teams battled for possession to begin the first half, putting players forward to create chances on either side of the pitch. Michigan State created a dangerous opportunities in the box with Kyle Rutz earning two back-to-back shots on goal that were scooped up by the Wildcat keeper. The Spartan backline continued to clear out forward pressure from Northwestern as Kevin Cope and Ryan Keener kept the Wildcat chances out of the box.
The Big Ten's leading goal scorer, Joey Calistri, drove down the field to take a shot, but was met by Zach Bennett before he could send it in the net. Andrew Herr made a big defensive play, heading out a dangerous shot from the Wildcats close to midway through the first half.
In the 24th minute, Fatai Alashe stole the ball from Calistri nearly 40-yards out, took two dribbles and from 25 yards shot it into the right side of the goal. He gave MSU a 1-0 lead with his fourth goal scored this season, sixth of his career. It marked Michigan State's first goal in the first half since Alashe sent in the initial goal in the Spartans win at Indiana on Nov. 1.
"Fatai is very athletic," said Rensing. "He read the play really well and was able to take it off of Calistri's foot, separate and just hit a great shot to the lower corner."
Northwestern nearly scored the equalizer as a volley sent in from left hand side led to a shot that sailed wide of the net. The Wildcats continued their offensive attack, bouncing a chance around the box before a clear shot was deflected off their own defender.
Chapman punched a goal just wide of the net before the end of the first half where Northwestern earned eight shots to MSU's four.
With added aggression in the second half, the Spartans stepped up defensively as the Wildcats battled to create chances. MSU earned two-straight corner kicks, but could not build the lead against Northwestern, but the Wildcats cleared out any Spartan opportunities.
With under 30 minutes left in regulation, Northwestern produced its most dangerous shot that was sent over the cross bar. They continued to maintain possession near the end of the second half to earn a corner kick for the Wildcats that led to a header, but was picked up by Bennett. Wesley Curtis battled for the ball before Calistri got a foot on it to send a target on the net, but Bennett came up with a major save for the Spartans. The Wildcats continued to take shots on frame, but the Spartan defense rose to the challenge to maintain their lead as the clock winded down.
In goal, Zach Bennett recorded four saves on the day to improve his GAA to 0.69 with a .876 Sv%. With the help of the Spartan backline, he recorded his 11th shutout of the season, 14th of his career. It marks the most shutouts in a single season since 2008.
The Spartans will face Indiana in their second-straight trip to the Big Ten Tournament Championship on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. in Columbus. The game will be broadcast live on Big Ten Network.