An injury-depleted No. 16 MSU men’s soccer team saw its Big Ten title hopes slip away in a 3-0 loss against Indiana on Sunday.
With a Penn State victory against Ohio State on Saturday, MSU (11-4-0 overall, 2-3-0 Big Ten) entered the game against Indiana (8-4-2, 3-0-1) with a chance to remain in contention for the Big Ten Championship.
The officials called a loose game and allowed the Spartans and Hoosiers to play in some dangerous situations. At least four different MSU players left the game because of injury.
The injuries likely caused the Spartans to play more hesitantly, and Indiana took advantage of that, Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley said.
“We executed, had our good looks,” Yeagley said. “We eliminated a lot of our mistakes we’ve been making. This will go a long way to keep us at the top of the table in the Big Ten, which is very important.”
Playing a back-and-forth game for the first 37 minutes, Indiana found the back of the net on a goal from forward Will Bruin to take a 1-0 lead.
The Spartans played even for much of the rest of the first half to take the one-goal deficit into halftime.
The Hoosiers tallied another goal in the 53rd minute when MSU senior goalie Avery Steinlage made a save on one shot, but Indiana midfielder Joe Tolen put the rebound in for the two-goal advantage.
After its second goal, the Indiana defense began to settle in and shut down nearly every MSU attack.
With a large number of substitutes in the game, the Spartans found it hard to get a smooth offensive flow going.
MSU head coach Damon Rensing said the team did exactly what was called for in a tough situation.
“They worked, and you know what, that’s all we ask of these guys,” Rensing said. “They did that, they did a great job with that, and I’m proud to coach these guys.”
With Spartan attacks fizzling, the Hoosiers were able to counter with some dangerous attacks.
On one of those counters in the 64th minute, a cross by Indiana midfielder Joe Tolen found an unguarded Bruin on the far post. Steinlage, caught off guard, allowed a Bruin header into the net.
Sophomore defender Kevin Cope, last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, went down late in the first half from an injury. His loss was tough to replace, Steinlage said.
“He’s a stud back there,” he said. “Kevin’s obviously a big part in the way he talks. (It’s) just field presence, you miss him when he’s not out there.”
The shifting of players was a hard adjustment to make, Steinlage said.
“We have confidence in the guys coming in, but, especially with three guys coming out, it’s a lot of movement out there,” Steinlage said. “It’s hard to play that way.”
Rensing said the result wasn’t a complete loss.
“You try to take something away from every game,” Rensing said. “In the end, we probably found a few things that exposed us and we’re going to work on that.
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“We’re not happy with the result, none of these guys are. We came in to win today, but sometimes soccer just doesn’t go your way.”
The team was looking to improve to a 8-0 home record, not suffer a demoralizing defeat, Steinlage said.
“It’s tough to swallow,” he said. “We were looking to take a share of the Big Ten lead, this is pretty much the opposite of where we were looking to be.”
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