MSU Falls at Penn State, 2-1
A frustrating day for the Spartans in several aspects led to a 2-1 loss against Penn State on the road on Sunday afternoon. The game-winner for the Nittany Lions was a Spartan own goal, and despite a late push, MSU could not gain an equalizer as its three-game unbeaten streak was snapped. Adam Montague had the lone score, while freshman keeper Zach Bennett made three saves in his third straight start.
Michigan State is 9-9-1 and finished the regular season 3-3-0 in Big Ten play, while top-seeded Penn State is 9-4-3 and finished with a 3-1-2 record in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions and Northwestern tied for the regular-season Big Ten title, but PSU earned the No. 1 seed in the tournament by virtue of a 1-0 OT win over the Wildcats in head-to-head action.
Heading into the final game of the regular season, the Spartans had a chance to win the Big Ten title outright. Michigan came away with a 1-0 victory, pushing MSU back to fifth in the standings. A goal off of a corner kick in the 70th minute proved to be all the Wolverines would need in the intense rivalry game to come away with the win. Instead of a title with the win, the Spartans fell all the way to fifth in the regular-season standings.
In Wednesday's quarterfinal, the Spartans scored both early and late and held off a late push by No. 21 Indiana to post their second victory of the season over the Hoosiers. Adam Montague struck for the Spartans in the fourth minute, and Ryan Keener scored the eventual game-winner in the 78th minute off a corner play. While Indiana got on the board with just eight minutes remaining in regulation, it was just the Hoosiers' second shot on net of the day. Much credit was given to MSU's back line (centerbacks Keener and Kevin Cope, and Luke Norman and Ryan Thelen on the outside, along with midfielder Fatai Alashe) by head coach Damon Rensing after the match, severely limiting a potent Indiana attack for the second time in two weeks.
The Spartans own a 15-19-2 record all-time in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Spartans are 1-6-1 against the Nittany Lions all-time in the Big Ten Tournament, and the teams meet for the first time since 2009. In the semifinal round, the teams have played four times, with PSU earning wins in 2000, 2005, and 2009. MSU downed the Nittany Lions in the semis in 2001, but lost to Indiana 2-1 in the finals that season.
Michigan State is 7-19-2 all-time against the Nittany Lions. When the two teams met earlier this season, a frustrating day for the Spartans in several aspects led to a 2-1 loss. The game-winner for the Nittany Lions was a Spartan own goal, and despite a late push, MSU could not gain an equalizer. Adam Montague had the lone score, while freshman keeper Zach Bennett made three saves in his third straight start.
Penn State held a 1-0 lead 20 minutes into the game, as Daniel Burnham was able to put back a rebound of a Julian Cardona shot for his third goal of the season. Coming out of the intermission, the Nittany Lions had pressure deep in the final third, forcing a corner kick in the 48th minute. John Gallagher lined up and took the corner from the right side for Penn State, and he launched it into the far side of the penalty area. A header attempt by the Spartan defense went awry, sending the ball into the back of the net for an own goal.
The Spartans battled back with a score from Montague that found its mark at 54:30. Luke Norman carried the ball from the midfield line and sent a fantastic through ball up to Montague at the cusp of the attacking third. Montague powered into the box and launched a right-footed blast from 15 yards out.
The Spartan offense tallied the most goals in Big Ten games this season with nine goals in six games.
MSU's longest winning streak of the season was three games, in late October vs. Oakland, Indiana, and Akron; despite nine losses on the season, MSU never lost more than two games in a row over the course of the season.
Despite starting the season 3-6-1, Michigan State won five games during the month of October. Of the Spartans nine losses on the season, just one of those was by more than one goal (at No. 3/8 Notre Dame, 2-0) and three of those losses came in double overtime.
Freshman goalkeeper Zach Bennett continues to be a consistent force in net for the Spartans. In his eight starts, Michigan State is 6-3 and has outscored opponents 12-7 in those games. Bennett has given up multiple goals in a game just once - in the 2-1 loss at Penn State in which the game-winner was an own goal. Bennett is third in the Big Ten in both GAA (0.78) and save percentage (.794). His three shutouts rank fifth in the Conference.
The Nittany Lions are led offensively by Julian Cardona, who has six goals (third in the Big Ten) and 14 points. Daniel Burnham owns a 4-2-10 lione, and Marvin Ledgister has contributed three goals.
Andrew Wolverton and Emmanuel Martin have each played nine games for PSU; Wolverton leads the Big Ten in both GAA (0.49), and save percentage (.833). Martin owns a 1.26 GAA and .607 save percentage.
Five teams on MSU's 2012 slate appear in this week's NSCAA poll. Four of those teams (all MSU non-conference opponents) are in the current NSCAA Top 10: No. 1 Akron, No. 6 Connecticut, No. 7 Notre Dame, and No. 10 Marquette. Big Ten opponent Indiana ranks 21st.
The Spartans earned Big Ten honors in two straight weeks, beginning with Domenic Barone and Zach Bennett sweeping Big Ten honors on Oct. 22, followed by freshman Jay Chapman earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for his three-goal effort in the win against No. 16 Indiana on Oct. 29.
Some significant injuries have shortened MSU's bench this season, with players being lost for the remainder of the year. Starting back Josh Barens has not seen the field at all this season, but is expected to be ready to go for the spring training sessions and games. He will apply for a medical redshirt season. Freshman Andrew Herr sustained a season-ending injury in the exhibition game vs. IPFW, and will also apply for a medical redshirt.
MSU lost two players for the remainder of the season during the Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge - Wesley Curtis sustained his injury against Notre Dame, and Kyle Rutz in the home game against Marquette. In addition, Brent McIntosh will miss the remainder of the season as well.
Head Coach Damon Rensing is in his fourth season as head coach, but embarks on his 14th on the Spartan sideline after a standout career for the Spartans (1993-96). Rensing is 31-23-9 in his first three seasons as head coach, but MSU boasts an 110-64-21 (.619) overall record with Rensing on the sidelines, including 11 or more wins in eight seasons.
Kylie Stannard and Ben Pirmann serve as the Spartan assistants. Pirmann is also a former Spartan letterwinner, and previously served the program as the volunteer assistant before returning to his alma mater after a coaching stint at Western Michigan. Stannard is a graduate of Creighton, which reached the Elite Eight twice in his career and the semifinals once. Prior to coming to MSU, he was an assistant coach at Northern Illinois. This past summer, Stannard made his debut as the head coach of Detroit City FC, which plays in the National Premier Soccer League. Former MSU keeper Jeremy Clark, (2008-11), is now in his first season as the team's volunteer coach.
Michigan State was selected third in the pre-season Big Ten men's soccer poll. In conjunction with the pre-season survey, Senior Domenic Barone , junior Kevin Cope and sophomore Adam Montague were mentioned on the Big Ten 2012 Players to Watch List.
The winner of Friday's game advances to Sunday's championship tilt, which will be played at 12 p.m. and will air live on the Big Ten Network.