The MSU men’s soccer team is going to have its hands full tonight against No. 1 Akron.
The Spartans’ five-game unbeaten streak is on the line as the team travels to undefeated Akron (15-0-0), a team MSU head coach Damon Rensing called “the best team we will play all season.”
Because Akron is in the Mid-American Conference, they might not appear to be a soccer powerhouse. But the Zips have loaded their schedule with nonconference games against strong opponents — including going 4-0 against Big Ten schools — to solidify their ranking atop the country.
“We are kind of in a position here where we have nothing to lose and a lot to gain from this game,” Rensing said. “I think that’s a good place to be against a team we know is going to be really strong. Any result would be a good result against Akron.”
The Spartans (10-4-2 overall, 2-3 Big Ten) might be without starting goaltender Avery Steinlage, who injured his shoulder Monday and had his arm in a sling prior to Tuesday’s practice. Rensing called Steinlage’s injury “day-to-day.”
The Zips play a very technical, high-tempo game, which contrasts the Spartans’ counterattacking, physical style.
Junior defender Nosa Iyoha said the Spartans are going to approach the game as they would a typical Big Ten game.
“They move the ball very well and very quickly,” Iyoha said. “In transition, they like to swarm, so they are right on you. We want to get in there and get under their skins and make them more uncomfortable.”
Rensing said much of Akron’s defensive success this season comes as a result of strong midfield play, where the Zips maintain possession and control the game.
“They have the ball so much, it’s hard to attack them when you doesn’t have the ball,” Rensing said. “Part of their defense is how good their offense is.”
The Spartans arrived in Akron Tuesday night and planned a morning practice to become accustomed to the settings and mentally prepare.
“When you are on the road, you only have one thing to worry about,” Rensing said. “There’s no Wednesday classes for our guys. So our one focus is to go in there and play well against Akron.”
Tonight’s game marks MSU’s second game played under the lights, a setting that could benefit the Spartans.
“Playing under the lights always jumps the energy up on both sides,” Rensing said. “Akron has a raucous student section. We will have to play on that edge but relax and execute.”
With only two regular season games left at Akron and at No. 11 Northwestern, junior midfielder Jeff Ricondo said it’s important for the team to gain momentum entering next week’s Big Ten Tournament.
“We are on a little stretch in the last five games,” Ricondo said. “The end of the season is where you want to end on a positive note. Two good results would give us good momentum going into the Big Ten Tournament.”
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