EAST LANSING, Michigan - The Michigan State men's soccer program will welcome back its student-athletes Tuesday following a full summer season that included play in the USL Premier Development League and National Premier League.
"It was great to see and follow our current players playing at various levels all over the country," said head coach Damon Rensing. "It certainly is a testament to the commitment of their development and to the Michigan State soccer program."
A total of 17 members of the squad competed during the offseason. The opportunities gave the Spartans a taste of the professional soccer environment and a way for them to represent the program at another level.
"We want our players competing at the highest possible levels in the summer, so they come into our preseason sharp and ready to go," Rensing said. "The fact that our players won championships and played in playoffs further pushes their hunger to win more. We had players play in the MLS Homegrown Game, PDL Championship, NPSL National Semi-Finals, and U-20 National Championships, and that speaks to the quality of a player in our program."
Senior midfielder Fatai Alashe returns to East Lansing after being selected to captain the Portland Timbers U-23 in the Chipotle Homegrown match during MLS All-Star Week, televised by ESPN on Aug. 4. His efforts helped guide the team to a 0-0 draw with against the Homegrown. During his time with the U-23 squad he posted solid minutes and scored goals in consecutive games.
"It was an absolute honor to be recognized as captain for the Timbers U-23 team this summer and to be able to represent Michigan State all the way out on the west coast," said Alashe. "It was a learning experience for me that definitely had its ups and downs, but I think I was well prepared for the level of competition which is a huge credit to our coaching staff and my teammates here at MSU.
"Being in such a professional environment, you learn a lot about the game and most importantly you learn how to carry yourself like a pro and get used to the daily grind of playing at the next level. This summer brought about a lot of cool experiences for me, like playing in the inaugural homegrown All-Star game."
Seniors Tim Kreutz and Ryan Keener and juniors Zach Bennett and Jason Stacey all made the Lansing United's inaugural roster. Forward Kreutz posted two goals during his eight games played and Bennett raked up 27 saves and a 4-3-2 record as the team's goalkeeper. Bennett's efforts were also recognized by an NPSL Supporters' XI selection.
"I thought it was a really good experience this summer," said Bennett. "It was even better than I expected it to be. Obviously, I had never played in the NPSL before...but (the Lansing United) was a very professional organization. I thought we competed very well as a whole and I it was good development, especially for the Michigan State players who competed."
The newly formed squad's first year included a NPSL Midwest Regional title won in Michigan State's own DeMartin Soccer Complex
"It was a really cool atmosphere," Bennett said. "I've obviously never played for another team at DeMartin before, so it was different in that aspect. Also, having two fan sections gave a different feel to the whole field that was very cool. It was very fun and it honestly felt like a big MSU game. There were over 2,000 people at it and the whole atmosphere got me that much more excited to play for Michigan State this fall."
Incoming defender Zach Carroll competed with the Michigan Bucks as they won the 2014 USL PDL Championship on Aug. 3, the second title in team history. During his 10 games with the Bucks, the junior transfer registered a goal, which came during a 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Bennett and Keener also held spots on the squad's 2014 roster.
"Playing with the Bucks this summer was great," said Carroll. "It was a great experience to play with top quality players from all over the country. We really came together as a team and playing against quality competition certainly got me in a great starting position for the upcoming college season. The national championship got me hungry for more championships and I hope to grab a Big Ten and NCAA championship."
Junior midfielder Jay Chapman, who was recently named to the Top Drawer Soccer preseason All-American Team, competed with K-W United FC. Chapman racked up three assists and three goals in his 11 games played. The team made their first playoff run in history during the 2014 season which ended during the semifinals.
Sophomore midfielder Dewey Lewis and redshirt freshman defender Ryan Scott both competed at the USL PDL Super 20s National Championships, helping the Grand Rapids Crew Juniors to a third place finish.
Senior Adam Montague played in a combined total of seven PDL games between the Chicago Fire and the Chicago Inferno. Junior midfielder Asa Miller competed in six PDL games with the River City Rovers. Sophomore midfielder Andrew Herr competed with the Reading United A.C. Super 20s, which is affiliated with the Philadelphia Union of the MLS. Redshirt freshmen Ali Scheib and Brian Winterfield and seniors Ben Myers and Kyle Rutz held spots with the Michigan Stars FC in the NPSL Midwest region. Transfer Brian Alumbaugh spent the 2014 off-season training with USL Pro Team, the Harrisburg City Islanders.
The opportunities in summer competition gave the Spartans a taste of the professional soccer environment and a way for them to represent the program at another level.
"Being able to compete against those players who are currently playing in the MLS and some who have already established a promising career for themselves was something I will never forget," added Alashe. "It was a proud moment for me being able to lead the team out of the tunnel for that game and battle against some great upcoming players. Hopefully, my summer will help to put Michigan State on the map and open people's eyes to the caliber of player that we produce at this school, and maybe even open doors for some of the younger guys to have the same opportunity. It's always a proud moment representing the Green and White."
"Looking forward to the 2014 season, this summer provided exactly what our program needed," added Rensing. "I'm proud of these players for their summer successes, but even more proud how they represented MSU Soccer and our university all over the USA."
The Spartans will play their first official match of the 2014 season Aug. 29 against SMU at 5 p.m. in East Lansing.