Men's Soccer Team Looking to Build on a Memorable 2007 Season
Aug. 21, 2008
EAST LANSING, Mich. - There's no time like the present for Michigan State men's soccer. The squad is coming off its eighth consecutive winning season and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Nine players with extensive college experience return from last season's 11-6-4 team, including three players who earned All-Big Ten honors. And most importantly, the Spartans are opening a new soccer stadium, the DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field in 2008.
2008 will also mark the final season for head coach Joe Baum. Baum will retire following 32 years on the sidelines as head coach. Current associate head coach, Damon Rensing, will take over January 1, 2009 as the program's fifth head coach in its history.
Michigan State, traditionally a strong defensive team, will combine its defensive approach with an infusion of offensive firepower this season, with an aim on returning to the NCAA Tournament.
"Having played in the NCAA Tournament was a great experience for our players," head coach Joe Baum said. "That built our confidence and exposed us to very intense competition."
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the team:
FIREPOWER AT THE FORWARD SPOT
Baum is quick to admit that in years past, Michigan State hasn't always been incredibly dynamic on offense. "A lot of times, if we got down by a goal early, it was catastrophic," he said.
Those days are gone, as the forward corps is led by senior Doug DeMartin, who led the Big Ten with 12 goals in 2007. DeMartin, who has 21 career goals and 48 career points, was voted unanimously as a first-team All-Big Ten honoree and also garnered All-Great Lakes Region accolades.
"Doug is a very poised and confident player," Baum said. "The key for every big-time forward is self-confidence. Doug knows he can score goals and create opportunities."
The other top forward is senior Louis Stephens III, who scored three goals in a reserve role last season. Stephens has always been a productive player, and Baum thinks his production will soar with increased playing time this year.
"Louis is going to play a lot more minutes this season," Baum said. "He had a great spring and summer. He is the kind of player where it doesn't take him very long to get into the flow of a match. We think Louis and Doug will be a dangerous duo."
Another senior, Karl Trost, will also be in the mix at the forward spot. Baum calls Trost "a steady player who makes the solid, necessary play."
Additionally, MSU has a pair of talented freshman forwards in Dominic Barone and Rubin Bega. Barone earned NSCAA All-America honors as a high school senior last year, leading his team to a state championship.
"Dominic is as great a ball-striker as I have seen. He has always been the leading scorer on his youth teams," Baum said. "He relishes the role as a scorer."
Bega scored 34 goals as a high school senior and has played top competition in Europe and South America. He also has a strong soccer pedigree, as his father played professionally in Albania.
"Rubin is a classic goal-scorer," Baum said. "He's not the biggest guy, but he's always in the right spot at the right time."
Baum said the Spartans are fortunate that this year's team has seniors in DeMartin and Stephens that can help bring along the younger forwards.
"It's an amazing scenario for us," he said. "Having veteran players up front allows us to groom the freshmen while getting them minutes as reserves."
A MORE DANGEROUS MIDFIELD
The Spartan midfield has several players who have played significant minutes at the college level. MSU has a pair of seniors and a pair of sophomores that will see the majority of the minutes early, and the team has signed a bevy of talented freshmen.
Sophomore Spencer Thompson is the team's top attack midfielder. Thompson has a knack for coming up big against tough opponents. He scored the game-winner in MSU's win over No. 3 Notre Dame last season, and he also scored in the team's win over Michigan later that week. Thompson, who started 19 matches last year, was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team and also competed in the U.S. U-20 player pool in New Orleans over the winter. Despite all of Thompson's success as a freshman, Baum thinks he is primed to make strides in 2008. "Spencer will be even more dangerous this season," he said. "At times last season, he was a little too unselfish. What you'll see from him now is more goal-scoring and more shooting."
Seniors Zac Scaffidi and Ben Pirmann have been anchors in the midfield for several seasons. Scaffidi has started 40 matches the past two seasons, accumulating four goals and six assists in his career.
"Zac is a reliable, blue-collar player who can defend extremely well," Baum said. "He epitomizes the type of player we look for in the Spartan program."
Pirmann enters his fifth season in East Lansing, having redshirted due to injury last year. He was a starter during the 2005 and 2006 seasons, and is a gritty and intelligent player.
"Ben is back from injury and he has been solid during the offseason," Baum said. "He really understands the game of soccer. We anticipate he will take a lot of our restart plays."
Pirmann's injury may have been a blessing in disguise for the Spartans, as it allowed the team to further develop redshirt sophomore Jeff Ricondo. As various midfielders suffered minor injuries last season, Ricondo stepped up and proved to be a solid player as a wide midfielder.
"No player made a bigger jump in terms of playing than Jeff Ricondo," Baum said. "He was outstanding at the end of last season. He is extremely fit and he is a fantastic passer."
Two other players, junior Tim Granaderos and redshirt freshman Garret Back, are also in line to see minutes. Granaderos appeared in 14 contests last season, starting four times and notching his first career point.
"Tim is a very good athlete who has found his comfort zone in our program," Baum said. "Tim will be needed in both the midfield and as a defender this year. He also was very good at the end of last year."
The Spartans also add a pair of talented freshmen in Lansing native Cyrus Saydee and Mark Barone, the twin brother of forward Domenic Barone. Saydee, who enters his freshman season at the age of 16, was the player of the year in the Lansing area last season, scoring 26 goals and 19 assists en route to first-team all-state honors. He has played on the Michigan U-17 Team and has had success in region ODP play. Baum said Saydee is similar to departed senior Kevin Reiman, who earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last year and is now with Real Salt Lake of the MLS.
"Cyrus is extremely fast and clever," Baum said. "He brings a dimension of speed to our team. He can fly by people and can also be a good scorer."
Barone, a left-footer, is a strong and powerful player who should compete for playing time immediately.
DEPTH AT DEFENDER
Michigan State is very deep at defender, with 10 players who can legitimately play at the college level. Despite losing All-Big Ten senior Rauwshan McKenzie to the MLS, the cupboard is definitely not bare on the back line of the Spartan side.
Seniors Josh Rogers and David Hertel headline the group. Rogers, who started 18 matches in 2006, returns after leg injuries limited him to nine matches last year. He is what Baum calls "another coach on the field" and can be used in penalty kick situations as well.
"Josh is a smart player who reads the game well," Baum said. "He is a good field general, always organizing people if they get out of position."
Hertel, another two-year starter, was named to the All-Tournament team at the Big Ten Tournament last season. The fifth-year senior is fast, intelligent and can mark the opponent's best forward.
"If there's a better left back in the Midwest, I'd like to see him," Baum said. "David has turned into an outstanding player. I think he can play professionally in the future."
Sophomore Nosa Iyoha came on strong last season in the wake of Rogers' injury and played his way to All-Big Ten Freshman Team honors. Iyoha is extremely athletic and projects to play both in the back and at midfield.
"Nosa has a lot of skills and we'll find a place for him on the field," Baum said.
The Spartans' depth truly shows in the group of players competing for the right back and stopper spots. Redshirt sophomores Jake Fullerton and A.W. Stanek each had a good offseason and may play. Also, a pair of redshirt freshmen - Matt Cebula and Kolt Martin - are in the mix.
MSU will also add three newcomers to the defensive corps. Freshmen Stephen Lucianek and David Sayre are two talented players from the Chicago Magic, a club team powerhouse. A wild card in the mix is Colin Givens, a transfer from Virginia. Givens, a Troy, Mich., native, appeared in 13 matches last season for the Cavaliers, who went 12-8-2 last year.
"Colin is an outstanding player," said Baum. "He is very athletic and has good skills. He is also composed beyond his years."
WHO WILL MIND THE NET?
Unquestionably, the Spartans are deep at defender, meaning there are many talented players keeping pressure off the goalkeeper. Now, Baum and the coaching staff have to determine who that goalkeeper will be. Redshirt sophomore Avery Steinlage and redshirt freshman Jeremy Clark are the top contenders for the starting goalkeeper position. Baum says both players are equal heading into the season, and both are capable netminders.
"Heading into the spring, we thought one of the two would separate himself as the starter. That didn't happen," Baum said. "Both are very solid and reliable, we just need one to step forward."
Steinlage, who redshirted in 2006 and didn't see action last year, lacks experience, but he makes up for it with extreme athleticism and a strong leg.
"Avery is one of the finest athletes we've had in goal," Baum said. "He just doesn't have the experience yet. At the same time, he can do some amazing things physically."
Clark has been a successful goalie in high school and at the ODP level, where he competed against top teams from around the nation.
"Jeremy is a bit more experienced," Baum said. "We were very high on him when he came here last year, and he is a good young goalkeeper."
The third goalie is redshirt sophomore Joe Gregus, a Flint, Mich., native. Gregus saw time in the team's spring exhibitions and responded well, proving his reliability.
"Ultimately, what we look for in goalkeepers is reliability," Baum said. "We don't expect goalkeepers to make amazing plays and diving saves. All we're looking for is someone who can make the solid, smart plays."
Michigan State is set to play seven matches against teams who competed in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. The schedule, which includes seven contests in the new DeMartin Stadium, may be one of the toughest in the nation.
"We have a very challenging schedule, especially early in the season," Baum said. "We play a lot of teams that usually advance to the NCAA Tournament. It's going to be a good challenge for us."
The Spartans take on three NCAA teams - Vermont, New Mexico and UIC - in the season's first three weekends. In addition to playing a tough Big Ten schedule that includes three NCAA squads, MSU will also travel to Notre Dame, who is perennially one of the top programs in the country. MSU defeated Notre Dame last season, which propelled the Spartans into the national rankings.
at the official