Aug 26, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The preseason is underway for the 2013 Michigan State men's soccer team and with a total of 21 Spartans returning from the 2012 Big Ten Tournament Championship team, MSU has the necessary ingredients for another successful postseason run. With depth across the board, head coach Damon Rensing provides a position-by-position breakdown of what to expect out of the 2013 Spartan squad.
Starting in goal will be sophomore Zach Bennett (Plano, Texas), who proved himself halfway through 2012 and helped the Spartans into the postseason. He finished with a .764 save percentage and 0.99 goals against average for his freshman campaign and was named to the 2012 Big Ten All-Freshman team.
"Zach Bennett finished the 2012 season very strong and was the anchor on our run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and Big Ten Tournament Championship," said Rensing. "So it's certainly his job to lose heading into the fall. I project him as No. 1. However, you have somebody like Bryce Dobbins, a senior, who has played well in some games. Then Quinn McAnaney has come on as well."
Dobbins (Troy, Mich.) made 29 saves starting in the first 10 games of last season. The group is also aided by McAnaney (Northbrook, Ill.), who helps push the competition.
"We've got three very capable goalkeepers which is a strength because, as a core, we're very deep in that area," Rensing said. "I think one thing that is nice is that they've all trained well together, even though only one can start. There's been good competition, yet a good camaraderie as far as being goalkeepers but not letting anything in going against all of the field players."
Michigan State's backline is as strong as any in the country as a core group of returning starters lead the Spartan defense. Redshirt senior Kevin Cope (Canton, Mich.), who is ranked No. 4 in the Big Ten by Topdrawersoccer.com, anchors the defenders at center back. Joining him will be redshirt junior Ryan Keener (Grand Blanc, Mich.) who has played a significant role on the backline the past two seasons.
"That certainly can be the backbone for our team, but it all depends on health," said Rensing. "You've got Kevin Cope who is going to be as good as any center back in the country in my opinion as well as in the opinion of others. Ryan Keener has played well and scored in big games, so those two guys have been together now for the better part his two seasons and they are looking to play together for their third season. It's great to have those two guys because your center backs really have to be on the same page."
Starting at one of the back positions will be redshirt senior Ryan Thelen (Mason, Mich.) who returns after leading the team with seven assists in 2012, good for third in the Big Ten. He is assisted by redshirt junior Josh Barens (Dimondale, Mich.) who returns from an injury sustained last season. Senior Wesley Curtis (McKinney, Texas) has experience and will help round out the stout Spartan defense.
"You look at the left back position and we have Ryan Thelen, who's played in every minute of every game last year and Josh Barens, who played and started the majority of the games two years ago but was injured last year," Rensing said. "He is back as a captain. Then we've got Wesley Curtis who is a senior. Between those two positions, we've got three guys that can play really any of them. Thelen can play right back, Curtis can play left back and JB is more of a left back but can play either, and some of them can play in the midfield."
"I've been very pleased with Ryan Scott, who is true freshman," said Rensing. "He's been very good on the ball, he's composed and makes really good decisions. On the opposite side is Austin Piwiniski who is a really good athlete, very good in the air and defends very well. He can be a little bit better on the ball and Ryan can be a little better with some defensive things, but I've been very pleased with how they've come in. I think freshman get stronger and better at different speeds. These guys are at a good pace. What better guys to learn from than the five starters. They are going to be around them every day in training. The other guy who had a really good spring and can play both wide-midfielder and right back is Jerome Cristobal. He gets forward really well, he's tenacious, he understands the team and what we're about. So he's another guy to look out for."
Yet another strength of the 2013 squad lies in the group of returning midfielders. Junior Fatai Alashe (Northville, Mich.), a Big Ten preseason player to watch, leads the group as he has played in all but one game his entire MSU career. He is helped by senior Cody Henderson (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), who gained valuable experience with a 2-2-6 scoring line in 2012. With a breakout freshman campaign, sophomore Jay Chapman (Campbellford, Ontario) will also be an anchor for the position. He was second on the team in both points and goals scored and recorded a hat-trick against the eventual National Champions Indiana.
"The midfielders are going to be a very competitive group and in certain ways our deepest and maybe our strongest area," Rensing said. "You've got Fatai Alashe who is a holding mid and has played every game he's been healthy for since his freshman year. This is not new to him; he knows what it takes. You've got Cody Henderson, who can play both holding and attacking mid and has played in a ton of big games for us as well. Certainly Jay Chapman, who was a Freshman All-American last year, is very skillful, he can read the game and he can do things in the final third that you can't teach. He's unpredictable and that's what you want out of your attacking mid. Those three guys are very capable for those two positions and those positions aren't necessarily 90-minutes for every game for 18 or 20 games, so that's a good rotation."
"You throw on to that group Ben Myers who had a decent spring," said Rensing. "He transferred a year ago from Clemson as more of a holding mid, but he's been coming in really fit, he reads the game pretty well and is good in the air. I've been really pleased with Brian Winterfield as a true freshman. He's a Spartan true and true. He plays very simple, plays within himself, understands that position very well, covers the ground very well. So we've got a good five guys there for two positions and we're very happy with that."
Sophomore Sean Conerty, who scored two game-winning goals in his freshman season, most importantly against Michigan for the Big Ten Tournament title, will front the wide midfielders. Also looking to contribute at the position will be Brent McIntosh (Rochester, Mich.), who returns after a season-ending injury in 2012. A versatile member of the group is Kyle Rutz (Commerce Twp., Mich.), who was also plagued with an injury last season. Redshirt freshman Andrew Herr (Millersville, Pa.) and true freshman Dewey Lewis (Rockford, Mich.) will look to make their mark at the position, as well.
"We then shift to the wide midfielders and there are some good things there as well," Rensing said. "Sean Conerty comes back as a sophomore who really makes good decisions, he can strike a ball very well on goal, he can shoot a ball, cross a ball and he keeps possession very well. He's got to continue to work on getting better defensively, but he's very solid. Brent McIntosh played in two games last year, but was medically-redshirted. He is a junior college kid who can break people down one versus one, he can make killer passes in the final third, he's athletic and can certainly finish the ball. You also look at Kyle Rutz who can be a forward or wide mid. He got some goals last year, but was out with a fractured foot about a third of the way through the season. He's done really well in preseason and I expect him to give us at minimum quality minutes. He will be competing with those guys for starting positions. I mentioned earlier Jerome Cristobal at wide mid, who can do very well. You take Andrew Herr who has got good pace, he buzzes around and he's very good. The last guy is Dewey Lewis. Certainly part of being a freshman is being consistent, but he shows some signs that he can beat people. He scored in one of our scrimmages. He's athletic and he's going to be a good one. We're very happy with where he's at. So we've got six guys competing for two starting positions, but that's a position that we sub so there's minutes to be found there and certainly those guys can do it."
A strong group of forwards provides a dangerous edge for MSU. The Spartans leading scorer, second in the Big Ten, Adam Montague (Toledo, Ohio) returns for his junior season. A First Team All-Big Ten selection in 2012, he scored 22 points for MSU and is ranked sixth in the conference entering the season. He will be assisted by redshirt junior Tim Kreutz (Zurich, Ill.), who played in 20 games in 2012 and is looking to contribute to the position after missing the 2011 season.
"What I like about this group is that we've got versatility and they all bring a little something different to the table," said Rensing. Again, there's going to be three to four guys, depending on where we put Kyle (Rutz). Adam will be the anchor. He scored a goal in every game of the Big Ten Tournament and scored in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He's been very sharp in preseason. He scored in both of our 11-vs.-11 scrimmages and a few other drills. Tim Kreutz really has some pace. He can stretch defenses, keep them honest, free up some space and he's scored a couple of goals as well."
"Blake Skamiera is just an all-around worker," Rensing said. "He can hold the ball up, he's got a nose for the goal, he's strong, he can play back to goal or running behind and he's a little different element than what Tim brings to the table. Then you've got Kyle (Rutz) who is probably the best soccer player of the three, but hasn't played the position as much so we'll see how that comes together. All three of them in different games and different scenarios can bring something different to the table. I think the last person is Ali Scheib who is a true freshman. He has a high work rate, he can strike a ball with either foot well and he is still getting a feel for things, but we're happy with where he's at in preseason."
The Spartans will open the 2013 season against Western Michigan on Sunday, Sept. 1 at 2 p.m. at DeMartin Stadium.