The MSU men’s soccer team was unable to take advantage of a No. 2 Akron team fresh off its first defeat, falling, 1-0 Wednesday at DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field.
The Spartans (11-6-0) and Zips (15-1-1) played a close game that could have gone either way in the 1-0 result.
But Akron pulled out the 1-0 win with an early second-half goal by forward Darren Mattocks.
MSU head coach Damon Rensing said playing a highly-ranked opponent, the Spartans treated the match as if it was the postseason.
“We wanted to treat this as an NCAA Tournament game, and we used it as a barometer and it made sense,” Rensing said.
“Basically what happened is a lot of our guys showed up to play and a couple of guys that didn’t quite give the effort we expect in this program — and that was the difference.”
The loss wasn’t a complete disappointment, senior defender Colin Givens said.
“Losing a 1-0 game to the No. 2 team in the country isn’t a bad result,” Givens said.
The game started out with a first half deadlock and much of the game was played at midfield, despite a few chances by both teams.
The only real threat of the half came on an Akron shot with a diving save by MSU senior goalie Avery Steinlage.
Junior forward Domenic Barone thought MSU could have performed better in the first.
“The first half was a little rough,” Barone said. “But we got settled in and realized everything was going to be okay, everyone was just a little bit nervous at the beginning.”
The second half started with more of the same, until the Zips took advantage of a errant Spartan pass.
Akron midfielder Darlington Nagbe took the ball with Mattocks on a two-on-one breakaway.
After a well-placed pass to Mattocks, the forward scored past Steinlage seven minutes into the second half.
The goal was off an unlucky turnover and wasn’t a normal Akron goal, Givens said.
“Normally they slip the ball behind the defense,” he said. “We really kept the play in front of us and we’ll take shots from 25 to 30 yards out. We were just a little unfortunate to not get a goal.”
Rensing said the Spartans changed their strategy at halftime. Aside from the lone goal, Akron’s offense struggled in the second half.
“We switched systems at halftime,” he said. “Maybe gave up a little on the attack and defended a little bit better.”
Another 20 minutes of stagnant soccer was played until a flurry of Spartan chances came with about five minutes remaining in the game.
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The Spartans struggled with the offense, mainly because they couldn’t control the ball, Rensing said.
“They had the ball, we lost some rhythm,” he said. “Akron is a good team. But we got some good quality chances near the end. They didn’t have a ton of chances where they blew us out of the water.”
A glimmer of hope came on a shot with 2:30 left, but Akron’s goalkeeper made a nice save.
The Spartans kept attacking after picking up on Akron’s weaknesses, Barone said.
“The last 20 minutes we had them on their heels,” he said. “We got comfortable with them and played with them, it just took us a little bit longer to get them figured out than usual.”
With less than a minute remaining, the Spartans had a corner kick with everyone, including Steinlage, in the Akron box. The kick was saved as the Zips held on for the win.
“We’ll take some things from this game,” Rensing said.
“But this program is not at a point where there’s no such thing as a good loss. We lost the game and we thought we were capable of winning the game today.”
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