The men’s soccer team might have a difficult week ahead of them, but they’re looking forward to the challenge.
The No. 18 Spartans (7-1-2 overall, 1-0-1 Big Ten) will face a tricky midweek tilt against in-state rival Oakland (5-2-5, 3-0-1 Horizon) at 4 p.m. Wednesday at DeMartin Stadium.
After beating Western Michigan 4-0 in the first game of the season, head coach Damon Rensing said winning the team’s string of in-state battles is on the forefront of the team’s mind.
“We’re focusing on an Oakland team that’s very well-coached and in first place in the Horizon League,” Rensing said. “One of our goals is to be the best collegiate program in the state of Michigan. We’ve got a chance to go 2-0 in the state, and that is another motivation for our guys.”
The Golden Grizzlies are unbeaten in eight straight games, with a tie against Michigan and a win against Cleveland State, an NCAA tournament team from last season.
They’re led by junior Joey Tinnion, who has six goals and two assists in 12 games played this season.
After taking a season-high 36 shots in the 1-1 draw against Ohio State Sunday afternoon, Rensing said MSU needs to go back to what got them to where they are.
“They’ve got a lot of momentum,” he said. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. (We can’t) give up a lot defensively because they’ve got some good pieces going forward.”
Defense has been the name of the game for the Spartans, anchored by two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and sophomore goalkeeper Zach Bennett, senior defender Ryan Thelen and junior defender Ryan Keener.
The Spartans are tied third nationally in save percentage (.875), sixth in shutout percentage (.60) and 16th in goals against average (.66).
“Outside of the Valparaiso game, our guys showed up to play win, lose or draw,” Rensing said. “We’re organized defensively. This team is starting to know each other from a playing standpoint and a rhythm standpoint. We’ve got some good leadership, and we’re a veteran team, and that’s helped us so far.“
MSU can’t look past Oakland, despite having a date with Big Ten leaders Penn State Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
The Nittany Lions come in at No. 15 in the NCAA RPI standings, and remain the only team without a loss or draw in Big Ten play.
Rensing said the last seven games on the schedule aren’t easy, but all their goals are still in front of them.
“First of all, we want to get to the NCAA Tournament,” Rensing said. “You’ve got to win a majority of your games to that. We didn’t win (last) Sunday, so we need to bounce back and have a better performance (this) Sunday and make sure we’re ready to play Penn St.”