MSU men's soccer remains tied for second in Big Ten standings
It was bound to happen sooner or later — MSU finally found a game of zero separation.
In a double-overtime, back-and-forth rush of attacks, MSU hosting Wisconsin ended up a 1-1 tie. The two teams also knotted their draw in the Big Ten standings, as both remain tied for second.
"Both teams were committed to defending, even though we're trying to win the game," MSU head coach Damon Rensing said. "Ball wouldn't fall for either team."
The game started off in favor of the Badgers, with Wisconsin's goal during the 21st minute also qualifying as the first shot attempt for either side. Freshman midfielder Noah Leibold took the ball up on the left side and swerved his cross through the swaths of MSU defenders. Waiting at the end of the road was senior defender Matej Radonic, who launched himself into position with a diving header that returned the ball across goal and into the left netting.
The 1-0 advantage for the Badgers marked the second consecutive game that the Spartans sacrificed the opening goal. Within the next two minutes, the lead was both jeopardized and nearly furthered.
An angled header from junior midfielder Ken Krolicki almost pulled the Spartans back to parity. Then, the Badgers one-upped the Spartans, but not the scoreline. Junior attacker Tom Barlow clanged a shot off of the right post when one-timing a ground cross from fellow junior forward Mark Segbers.
The Badgers clutched the lead close until the 36th minute. Freshman defender Michael Pimlott picked his head up from deep in the middle of the park and did not hesitate when he saw sophomore winger DeJuan Jones venturing inward and toward goal. The deep pass was met by a cushioned chest-down from Jones, finishing the play with a precise left-footed shot into the near corner.
"Ryan (Sierakowski) actually checked in, so the defense was drawn to him, so I actually ran in behind," Jones said. "Pimlott played a great ball and I just took it off my chest and finished that to the bottom corner."
The game entered halftime equal at one goal apiece, but the second half bustled with potential game-changers.
Within seven minutes of halftime, Hague made an assured save, Dewey Lewis rounded the keeper only to fail to sort out his feet and Jones had a far-post shot wind up just wide.
Later in the half, Hague was backed into the most precarious position of the game, with a deflected cross leading Barlow alone, five feet from goal. Hague rushed the would-be scorer and managed to bat out the close-range attempt.
"I think we had some really good chances," Jones said. "They also had some good chances, so really could have gone either way."
The game headed to overtime with mounting pressure on both goals, but the last-stitch defending kept the game goalless. A late red card sentenced Wisconsin to a one-player deficit, but MSU was unable to exploit their advantage with just three minutes remaining after an exhausting match.
"It is tough, because the more you sub, the rhythm you lose a little bit in soccer," Rensing said. "You want to still keep a rhythm and keep things going, but you obviously need fresh legs, too."
For the Spartans, their first draw of the season meant they failed to clasp onto sole possession of second in the Big Ten, with Maryland atop the ranks at 5-0-1 in-conference. But with MSU and Wisconsin tied at second at 3-1-1, Rensing said the team is well-poised for the final stretch.
"Our goal is to be challenging for a Big Ten title at the end of the year," Rensing said. "If you're in there the last two weeks, then you're going to be right there for NCAA Tournament and then those kinds of things. So we're good. I think Maryland's probably got the outside track to winning it, but if they stumble, I think there's a couple of programs that are ready to step up."
The Spartans next in-conference game will be a crucial away travel to Penn State on Saturday, but first they have to deal with Akron at home on Tuesday, with just a day's rest.
"We only have a couple days before our next game, so we'll definitely have to recover — ice bath and all that stuff," Jones said. "But we're just going to try as hard as we can to stay healthy and keep going."