After two straight road games, the MSU women’s soccer team will return home this weekend and welcome their first Big Ten opponents — Indiana and Purdue — to DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field.
The Spartans will have their work cut out for them, facing two of the better offensive teams in the conference and trying to rebound from a frustrating shutout loss at Penn State last Sunday.
“We’ve got to crank up our offense, quite honestly,” MSU head coach Tom Saxton said. “It doesn’t mean we can rest defensively.
“We got to play good defense to have any chance in Big Ten play. … We’ve got to put pressure on their goal and get back on the scoring track here because we don’t like getting shut out.”
Last season, both Indiana and Purdue stole results from the Spartans in similar back-to-back games.
Indiana delivered the team its first loss of the season, 1-0, and Purdue drew the Spartans in a 1-1 tie.
This year, Indiana perhaps is the most dangerous of the two because of their offensive weapon, forward Orianica Velasquez, who has taken the most shots in the Big Ten (56) and is tied for the most goals (5).
“(She’s) one of the most dangerous players in the Big Ten,” Saxton said. “Certainly going to be somebody we key on.
“Defensively, we are a zone team, but we have to know where she is at all times. … You have to have a second set of eyes, while you’re focusing on the ball and what’s going on you got to know where she is because she’ll punish us.”
The Spartans have some weapons of their own in junior forward Laura Heyboer and sophomore forward Olivia Stander, who have five goals apiece.
With encouragement from this weekend’s game plan, both said they will be a bit more selfish with the ball.
“We have to take our chances,” Heyboer said. “There’s so many times that we have half chances that we choose to pass off rather than shoot. We have to be a little more greedy, take the opportunities that we have rather than give them up.”
Both Heyboer and Stander are likely to see a lot of chances Sunday against Purdue, whose goalkeeper, Carianne Betts, has been forced to make the most saves (47) in the Big Ten.
Although they allow a lot of shots, The Boilermakers’ defense is very physical. But perhaps they are too physical at times, as Purdue leads the conference in fouls with 135.
“They’re always very aggressive, very physical,” Stander said. “We know what we’re going to get when we come out there. So, we just have to prepare for that, be ready and be able to rise above it.”
Saxton had nothing but praise for the Purdue program and its coach, Robert Klatte, who is in his 12th year.
“Across the country, one of the coaches I have the most respect for is Klatte of Purdue,” Saxton said.
“He’s the only coach they’ve ever had. He’s built a great program there, and no matter what they go through — and they’ve had some tough injuries, especially on their back line — they are always ready to play. And, they play incredibly tough.”
Saxton said that he will relay one message to his team all week as they prepare for the physical matchup.
“When we come into Sunday, against Purdue, we better make sure we match their intensity, or we’re not going to be successful,” he said.
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