Aug. 18, 2003
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Sometimes things don't turn out like you plan. Such was the case in 2002 for the Michigan State men's soccer team. But adversity can make you stronger. Even after a challenging season marked by unexpected injuries, the Spartans embrace a winning mindset as they approach 2003.
"Winning has become part of our tradition and we have some pretty lofty expectations," said Joe Baum, head coach of nearly three decades. "The first one is just to get back to the NCAA Tournament."
Junior forward Ryan McMahen suffered an ankle injury last preseason that kept him off the field for the entire year. Senior John Minagawa-Webster suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the year and fifth-year senior Nick Binder was limited to just 10 games.
Injuries may have hindered the Spartans' efforts to reach the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row, but as this veteran team approaches its next, and for many players, their last, opportunity to make it to the NCAA Tournament, the team is as hungry as ever to reach its goals.
"We're focused and determined after a great spring practice, so we're rearing to go," said Baum. "This is an older team whose time has come.
"Older players who have been there before have a totally different mindset in that they're aggressively trying to make plays, score goals, make saves and take balls away from people. With that aggressive mindset, you can be successful and with the experience we have, that's the mindset that this team possesses."
Thomas Trivelloni, Ryan McMahen, and John Minagawa-Webster are etched in stone as forwards for the upcoming season. Trivelloni and McMahen have both played as forwards for the team in previous seasons, whereas Minagawa-Webster is a former midfielder.
"Trivelloni may be the most intense player on the team with the mentality that every game is the most important game on Earth," said Baum. "He has had a great career here and we look for a big season out of him.
"John has great speed and can fly by anybody. He's probably the fastest player on the team. I think he will be as dangerous of a forward as there is in the Big Ten.
"Ryan is a big, strong, powerful workhorse. He goes to the goal with a lot of aggression. He is one hundred percent healthy and had a great spring."
Junior Jordan Gruber, who has typically played in the midfield, may move to forward this season.
"Gruber is an excellent player who is going to play a ton for us," explained Baum. "He is very creative and he gets by with his cleverness. He'll be a forward, but if we get an injury in the midfield, he'll probably come back and play midfield."
With so many talented players, Baum is not concerned with designating starters.
"We don't even care which two start," he explained. "They all bring a different dimension and yet they combine well together."
This depth will be a welcome change compared to last season when only two forwards were available during many games.
"In some games, our forwards were pacing themselves," Baum said, "You can't play all out for 90 minutes, that's impossible."
Having four available forwards allows players to be fresh and explosive throughout the game.
"You should see what it's like when these guys are warming up and they know they're going in for the last 20 minutes of the half," Baum said. "There is smoke coming out of their ears and they can't wait to get in there."
Entering his fourth season as a starter, Jeff Krass will be at left wide mid with fifth-year senior Craig Hearn at right halfback.
"Krass is a big time player," said Baum of the Spartan captain, who led his team in scoring with seven goals and five assists, totaling 19 points in 2001.
Hearn has proven himself valuable to MSU throughout his career, consistently ranking among team leaders for goals, points and assists.
"Hearn was brilliant in that right midfield position in the later stages of last year," said Baum, "He is an excellent player."
Joe Fourre will provide depth in the right midfield, a position he has played before. As the new season approaches, Fourre continues to hone in on the skills essential to success in the right mid.
John Kaczmarek will return as the starter in the center midfield, where he played last spring.
"Kaczmarek did really well at center attack mid," said Baum. "He started wide and now he's playing inside."
The starting defensive midfielder will be junior Steve Doster.
"That position is made for him," said Baum of Doster starting at defensive mid. "He is a good, strong defender and a ball-winner."
Senior Dave Perlin enters the 2003 season in the left midfield position after switching from defense in the spring.
Ryan Dick and Matt Kreikemeier will provide additional depth to the midfield. Both freshmen will have to work hard to establish themselves as valuable additions to an already strong midfield made up of highly adept players.
"They're going to have to be patient, but I think that they are going to get playing time," said Baum.
Udo Seidel, who recently transferred to MSU after playing for two years at South Carolina, is also a potential midfielder.
With the return of veteran defenders and some essential changes planned for 2003, the Spartans' defensive lineup promises to be a team strength.
"Defensively, this team is really going to be good," said Baum.
Senior Nick DeGraw, who earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2001 and 2002 will secure MSU's defense at center fullback in 2003.
"He is a bona fide Big Ten player and he'll do a great job there," said Baum.
Junior Kellen Kalso returns as sweeper for a third-consecutive year with skill and experience for Spartan success in 2003. The seasoned defender has enjoyed consistent success at MSU, starting in all 38 games of his collegiate career.
Junior Kevin Wittig, who tied for the team lead with five assists in 2002, has been an important part of the Spartans' defensive strength. The Academic All-Big Ten honoree will return to start at right fullback for the third-consecutive year in 2003.
"Both Belloli and Dahlin played their best soccer ever this spring," said Baum. "Now that they have been in this program for a couple of years, they have their confidence and they know what's going on so I wouldn't hesitate to use either one of those guys as a defender."
Determining the starting left defensive position is up to those players who are eligible to contend for it.
"Nick Binder will be a strong candidate if he is healthy," Baum said of the senior, who recently underwent knee surgery.
"Of those three, one will emerge as the left defender," said Baum. "I'd say it is an even race. May the best player step up and be the man."
Potential up-and-coming MSU defenders include John Folino and Greg Janicki. As freshmen joining a team dominated by older players, Folino and Janicki will need patience as they work for playing time in 2003.
An effective goalkeeper is essential to solid defense and Mike Robinson will be the starting goalkeeper for Michigan State this season.
"Mike Robinson is one of the keys to this team's success," said Baum. "He is phenomenal and if he stays healthy, this team, defensively, could be a team that's very hard to score on."
An experienced Spartan goaltender, Mike Robinson beat out teammate Tyler Robinson after a long battle for the starting position in 2001, only to watch Tyler, a First Team All-Big Ten selection, step up as the starting goalie in 2002.
Now that Tyler has graduated, Mike has reclaimed his starting position. Mike's exceptional performance on the field, particularly in recent months, indicates a smooth transition in the goal and a victorious upcoming season.
"Mike Robinson had a spring that was beyond belief," said Baum. "He played as good as any goalie has ever played for me. Not only does he not give up a goal, he doesn't even come close to giving up a goal."
Freshmen goalkeepers Chris Austin and Jason Tilman are both contenders to provide depth in the goal although they play with different styles.
"Chris Austin is a huge goalie with good hands and good reactions," said Baum. "Jason Tilman is smaller, but he is quick and he comes off of his line to really cut angles down."
The Michigan State men's soccer team schedule begins with two exhibition games against solid opponents Rutgers and Kentucky before moving into the regular season with two home games over Labor Day weekend. MSU faces Xavier on August 31 and Loyola Marymount on September 1. That is followed by a stretch of seven consecutive away games before returning home to match up against Ohio State on October 5.
"It's crazy," said Baum of the hectic schedule for 2003, "We sure didn't plan it that way, but I like it better this way because you get the traveling out of the way and then stay home at the end. We wanted to play a difficult schedule and we got it."