Ann Arbor, Mich. – With the regular season Big Ten title on the line, MSU men’s soccer team lost 1-0 to Michigan in what was a classic rivalry game in Ann Arbor on Saturday night.
With the victory, Michigan captures “The Big Bear,” the rivalry trophy given annually to the winner of the Michigan/MSU game, in addition to soiling MSU’s conference title chances.
“It was a typical rivalry game,” head coach Damon Rensing said. “They came out flying and put some pressure on us, and I think it took us awhile to calm down and play. At the end of the day, the Big Ten is about as easy as it gets from first to seventh. We knew we were going to have to come in and play well.”
The first half went back and forth, as both teams had all but their keepers on the attacking half of the field at one point.
Still, Michigan had more quality chances, as it had a ball ricochet off the crossbar and deflected down, but wasn’t called a goal in the first half. When the Michigan forwards finally got past the Spartan defense at the end of the half and put the ball in the back off the net, it was called off due to an offside.
“We got to the half 0-0, and we were OK with that on the road,” Rensing said. “We made some changes and created a few things, but credit to their team. Usually these type of rivalries come down to one or two plays and they made it and unfortunately at the end we couldn’t.”
The second half was controlled mostly by Michigan, as they tallied 13 shots and eight corner kicks, one of which led to the only goal of the game by Kofi Opare in the 69th minute.
“I’ve never been prouder of a team,” he said. “They put it all on the line and these guys stuck together and they gave everything they could. Just tonight it wasn’t enough.”
The pressure the Wolverines put on the Spartans was ever present throughout the game, and sophomore defender Ryan Keener said
“It’s what we’ve been doing all year,” Keener said. “It’s a lot of the communication in the back, which when it’s loud it’s a little tougher, so when it comes down to it, it’s just knowing each other and knowing that everyone has your back and it will be alright.”
The atmosphere also didn’t help the Spartans as the 2,225 people on hand at U-M Soccer Stadium, including the Michigan student section, dubbed the Michigan Ultras, yelled and banged on drums throughout the game.
Junior defender Kevin Cope said the crowd affected the team early in the first half, and they couldn’t recover after that.
“We were a little too excited in the beginning because of that (atmosphere),” Cope said. “We fed of that emotion even though it was against us. We put ourselves into a little bit of a panic and dug ourselves a hole and never got out of it.”
Of the 30 fouls called in the game, 16 were on MSU, but Cope said the referee wasn’t to blame.
“You can’t put anything on the ref,” he said. “He did fine both ways. In the heat of the game, our emotions are going and we might get angry with some of the calls, but when it all comes down to it the ref has nothing to do with it, it’s all on our shoulders.”
The next stop for the Spartans will be in Evanston, Ill. at the Big Ten Tournament, where they will be the No. 4 seed, and Rensing said the biggest thing the team needs to do is recover before their first game on Nov. 7.
“I think what the Big Ten tells you is that you can win every game,” Rensing said. “We know all of our opponents, so we know what they’re going to be like and go from there.”