Graduating five seniors this season, the MSU men’s soccer team was a relatively new group playing together in the exhibition spring season.
Finishing 2-3, head coach Damon Rensing said all the games were close, and he used the season as an evaluation process for the upcoming fall, learning what he can expect from this new group of players and where key adjustments need to be made.
“We look at the team — if they’re competitive, if they’re playing to win games, how they work together, how they handle adversity, how individuals perform in smaller groups and pairs,” Rensing said.
“We really use it as an evaluation period, so I think we got a lot of good evaluations with the games that we played.”
The exhibition season is played in the spring to offer teams a chance to practice without worrying about results.
With the loss of the seniors and other players to injuries, the spring season served as an opportunity for younger and inexperienced players to see more playing time.
Because of this, Rensing’s evaluation not only was of the team as a whole, but he also saw how younger players responded in competitive games and crucial situations. He said freshman midfielder Cody Henderson and freshman forward Tim Kreutz performed well under pressure, and their growth — as well as the team’s — will show in the fall.
“A lot of people saw minutes that didn’t really play a whole bunch in the fall, so it brought our depth up,” junior midfielder Brent Rosendall said. “Say some of our key guys get injured this year, we’ll have some of the guys that played a lot of minutes in the spring to step up, and it won’t be their first time seeing minutes.”
The exhibition season also is crucial for the Spartans because they can identify their weaknesses and make an effort to adjust before the regular season.
Rosendall said as a new team, everyone needs to earn each other’s trust for successful execution, and as individuals continued to improve through the spring, the team as a whole grew together as well.
“We won a couple close games and lost a couple close games I think all by one goal,” Rensing said. “Most of the goals we gave up were our mistakes, which I think will be very correctable in the fall.”
Rensing identified the midfield as an area that might need strengthening because of losing senior midfielders Jeff Ricondo, Spencer Thompson and Nosa Iyoha, who proved to be some of the top players in the conference.
Junior midfielder Mark Barone said the Spartans could make some minor changes to the lineup to keep the midfield strong. Additionally, With the help of incoming freshmen and veteran players seeing a lot of playing time, MSU’s depth will grow.
“(Junior forwards) Rubin (Bega) and Domenic (Barone) can play midfield, and we’ve got a couple juniors who can play too who didn’t get to play a lot in the fall because of how strong our midfield (seniors were),” Mark Barone said.
With Rensing generally pleased with how the team has come together without its seniors, the Spartans are forming their own identity. Playing without its three- and four-year starters, everyone has gained more experience, and the team is developing into a unique version of what it was last season.
“We’re definitely going to have our identity and a different kind of personality with how we play and our style of play,” Rosendall said. “In general, the kids are a little bit different. We are unique, and I think it’s going to be fun to see how we pan out this season.”
In addition to developing their new identity, the Spartans used the spring to learn how everyone plays and build up their team chemistry before the regular season starts. MSU is more closely knit because the five exhibition games gave the team an opportunity to develop as individuals and grow as a whole, Rosendall said.
“Now I would say our team is a lot closer together, and our chemistry is pretty good,” he said. “It didn’t really show a lot through our results this spring, but I think it will show in our results in the fall tremendously.”
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