Bennett, defense combine to stifle opposition
Zach Bennett is a wall.
In five games for the men’s soccer team (4-1-0 overall), the sophomore goalkeeper has four shutouts, bringing his career total to seven. The .80 shutout percentage is in the top 10 in the country.
Bennett made five saves in a 2-0 win against nationally ranked Marquette on Sunday in Milwaukee, Wisc., and was awarded Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week by the Big Ten Conference for his performance.
He was quick to take the spotlight off himself and give it to the players in front of him.
“It was more of a whole defense award,” Bennett said. “(Sophomore midfielder) Jay (Chapman), (junior midfielder) Fatai (Alashe), (senior defender) Ryan Thelen and (redshirt freshman midfielder) Andrew Herr all put their bodies on the line and saved some pretty serious shots that could’ve been goals if they didn’t stick out in front of them.”
The Spartans withstood an onslaught of shots from the Golden Eagles in the second half, and the 21 they endured in the game were the most of any game this season.
MSU backed up the solid play against Marquette with a 1-0 shutout against Bowling Green at home Wednesday evening. Again, Bennett was stellar, making eight saves to preserve the clean sheet.
For the second straight game, the defense was without senior captain Kevin Cope in the center of the defense. He was replaced by junior midfielder Fatai Alashe who made many important defensive stops.
Head coach Damon Rensing said the Spartans have a deep team, and the good decision making by the defense has allowed him to insert players not used to defending into the back line.
“It means that when guys get a chance to step up, they do,” Rensing said. “Fatai did a great job in that role there, and (senior midfielder) Cody Henderson stepped up at holding mid. That says a lot about our team and what we pride ourselves in, and that’s defending.”
Rensing and Bennett weren’t the only ones to notice the strong play of Alashe filling in on the back line.
Senior forward Tim Kreutz, who scored his second goal of the season after an outlet pass from Bennett said without the superb play of the back line, the offense wouldn’t be as proficient.
“We stuck to our game plan, and the defense did a great job,” he said. “Especially Fatai stepping in for Kevin. The whole back line and (Bennett), they’ve all come up huge in the last couple games.”
As a team, MSU has made 18 saves on 20 shots this season, good for a .900 save percentage, and the .40 goals against average is in the Top 20 in the nation.
Bennett said Cope needs to focus on getting healthy because Alashe is holding down the ship just fine on the back line.
“You never really expect the shutout four of the five teams you play at the beginning of the year,” he said. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the back line as a whole. Fatai played great against Marquette and again today. Kevin is a big part of our team, but Fatai is doing a great job and we’ve got to keep it rolling.”