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Spartans off to rough Big Ten start after loss

October 4, 2009

MSU junior defenseman Colin Givens heads the ball backward past Penn State forwards Jason Yeisley and Treavor Gelsinger during the first half of Sunday’s game. The Spartans lost to the Nittany Lions 1-0.

For the first time in 21 years, the MSU men’s soccer team has lost its first two Big Ten games of the season.

Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Penn State at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field gave the Nittany Lions their first conference road win since Sept. 24, 2006.

MSU head coach Damon Rensing said the loss felt eerily similar to the Spartans’ 1-0 loss to Ohio State last Sunday, as MSU gave up an early goal in both games and was unable to find an equalizer despite heavy offensive pressure.

“We’ve come to play and we’ve played hard for 90 minutes,” Rensing said. “I like this team, they haven’t gotten down. We are creating chances and the defense was very solid outside of a restart goal. I think we are always going to be in games and if we could get a little bit of luck or a bounce our way, I think we will be alright.”

The Spartans (5-3-1 overall, 0-2-0 Big Ten) played almost the entire second half with a man-advantage, resulting from an ejection to Penn State’s 6-foot-5 central defender Mark Fetrow in the 53rd minute.

But that wasn’t necessarily a positive for the Spartans.

After the ejection, Penn State substituted a forward for a defender and went into a defensive shell, packing as many players as they could into the box.

“You really can’t make through runs because everything is so congested and you have to work out wide,” MSU sophomore forward Rubin Bega said. “It was really frustrating.”

The game’s lone goal came in the 10th minute off a free kick from 30 yards out. Penn State forward Matheus Braga scored the goal after the ball deflected off the Spartans’ five-man wall and completely changed directions on MSU junior goalkeeper Avery Steinlage.

“I read it that he was going to my right, and then it hit off (senior defender Tim Granaderos’) shoulder and then off the left post,” Steinlage said. “It was one of those flukey deflections you can’t do anything about.”

The Spartans had their best chance at an equalizer with 20 minutes left in the first half. Bega dribbled the ball down the left sideline and weaved through two Penn State defenders before playing a through ball to sophomore forward Domenic Barone inside the 18-yard box. But Barone’s shot hit the Penn State goalkeeper in the chest.

When Fetrow was ejected early in the second half, Steinlage knew his workload was going to be drastically cut.

“They knew as soon as they got the red card, it was going to be them holding on by the seat of their pants for the next 36 minutes,” Steinlage said.

The Spartans had a handful of near misses through the second half, firing 12 shots on goal compared to Penn State’s six shots.

The last five minutes of the game featured the Spartans lobbing everything they could into the 18-yard box to try to find a break.

MSU appeared to have found that break with four seconds left on the clock when junior defender Colin Givens was kicked in the face inside the 18-yard box.

The Spartans appealed the no-call, but Rensing said the referee made the right decision.

“He just felt that in that close of a game, that’s not the deciding factor with four seconds left,” Rensing said. “The reason I can live with that is because I know that if this game had been flipped and it was 1-0 MSU, he doesn’t make that call against us.”

MSU will take on Western Michigan at 4 p.m. Wednesday at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field before reopening conference play Sunday at Wisconsin.

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