Aug. 22, 2012
A new season is unfolding for the Michigan State men's soccer team, a season which the squad is anxious to get underway.
A 7-8-4 overall campaign in 2011 is a bit deceiving for those looking to forecast success for the squad in 2012. By the second game of the 2011 season, head coach Damon Rensing had lost three players: senior and top returning scorer Domenic Barone, junior shutdown defender Kevin Cope and promising sophomore Tim Kreutz. The loss of Barone and Cope - anchors of both the Spartan offense and defense - left the remainder of the team looking to fill roles both on the field and in the locker room. While it took a few weeks to find that chemistry, it also found the Spartans below .500 at mid-season.
However, it was far from a lost season. Once the synergy was found, the team went on an impressive 7-1-2 run that began in early October and made the Spartans one of the hottest second-half teams in college soccer - punctuated by a regular-season finale which saw MSU knock of defending National Champion Akron on their home field. The Spartan win snapped the Zips' 48-game home winning streak.
So, forgive the Spartans for the enthusiasm at this dawn of a new year. The return of injured players - two of whom are returning All-Big Ten selections - is an extra bump on top of other returning veterans who are not only a year older, but also more experienced than they may be if Barone and Cope had not been early scratches from the lineup. What Rensing finds at his disposal is still a young team - 16 combined freshmen and sophomores - but also a seasoned squad that is determined to make a run at the program's first Big Ten title since 2008. Among those underclassmen who got that extra opportunity last season is sophomore Adam Montague, the team's top scorer from 2011. Montague was an All-Freshman team selection by the Big Ten coaches a year ago, and will form a formidable one-two punch with Barone at the attacking end for the Spartans.
The team's schedule is once again one of the most difficult in the country, with five teams in the Soccer America pre-season Top 25 appearing on the Spartans' non-conference schedule. A sixth, Duke, was on MSU's pre-season slate, a game in which the Spartans came away with a 1-0 victory. Add to that the ever-challenging murderer's row of games within the Big Ten Conference, and MSU will be well-tested before post-season begins.