After losing to their in-state rival for the first time in eight years, the MSU men’s soccer team will have a chance at redemption.
With a bid to the NCAA Tournament possibly at stake, MSU (11-6-1 overall, 2-4-0 Big Ten) will play Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at 10 a.m. Thursday in State College, Pa.
Although the team simply is looking for a win — after currently being on a four-game winless streak — a matchup with their in-state rival adds to the motivation.
“To hear it was Michigan, we couldn’t have asked for a better draw,” senior defender Colin Givens said. “We’re excited about it and ready to get some redemption. We’re preparing all this week, and we’re preparing for it like any other game. But we know in the back of our minds we want to redeem ourselves for the way we performed last time we played them.”
On Oct. 30, the Spartans lost, 3-2, in overtime at U-M (11-4-3 overall, 4-2-0 Big Ten). Down by two goals late in the second half, junior forward Domenic Barone scored two goals to force the extra time, but the Wolverines celebrated their first win against the Spartans since 2003.
Head coach Damon Rensing said he’d like to see the team play more united on the defensive front, a key factor in the October loss.
“We gave up a couple goals where we weren’t happy with in the first two goals against Michigan,” Rensing said.
“Obviously, the third goal was a great goal, so we can’t do much against that, but maybe we wouldn’t have been in that situation had we taken care of some things earlier.”
The overtime defeat was the second in a string of three losses to Indiana, U-M and No. 2 Akron, before ending the season with a 1-1 tie at Wisconsin-Milwaukee last Saturday.
A contributing factor in the season-ending slump was injuries.
Multiple starters including senior midfielder Jeff Ricondo, sophomore defender Kevin Cope, senior defender Nosa Iyoha and senior defender Jake Fullerton were out most of the games during the 0-3-1 slide to end the season that started 11-3-0.
They all should be available for the tournament, including Ricondo, who is nursing a collarbone injury.
Having the injured players back should help the team revert to its early-season form, senior midfielder Spencer Thompson said.
“We started out well on the season, and as it’s gone on, injuries (became) more serious,” Thompson said. “To have those guys back is a huge factor.”
Although the Spartans won’t be able to bring home the Big Bear Trophy — the rivalry trophy between the two teams — with a win, they want the bragging rights back.
“It was almost like they wanted it a little bit more than us (last time),” he said. “(They) had a couple of soft goals we gave up and that’s not our style at all and that was the only time it’s happened all season.
“It’s unfortunate it happened in that big of a game, but we’ve definitely fixed some of the things and have a couple of the guys back, so it’ll be a completely different game.”
Some players said they believe they need at least one more win to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but Rensing is more confident than his players.
“You never want to give guarantees, but I’m very cautiously optimistic as far as our chances,” Rensing said. “Win, lose or draw you’ll see Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament. I think we have a chance to play for a seed now.”
The latest RPI ratings have MSU at No. 12, so with at least one win, the team could have a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament.
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Rensing said the team is disappointed with how it ended the season and is looking to prove itself. That starts Thursday against Michigan.
“I think they’re a pretty competitive team,” Rensing said. “They’re just disappointed how our Big Ten record shows in the regular season, and they want to show the conference and the country that they’re one of the top teams in the country. The only way you can do that is winning games.”
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