by John neidhart
After three road games over the past two weekends, women’s soccer will return to the friendly confines of DeMartin Soccer Stadium for a Thursday-Sunday set against two challenging teams.
Iowa (8-3 overall, 3-2 Big Ten) will visit MSU (6-4-1 overall, 0-4-1 Big Ten) on Thursday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.
“We know we only have four left at home, so we’ll be ready,” head coach Tom Saxton said. “We’ll be at our best. We’re going up against one of our toughest opponents of the year, without a doubt.”
The Spartans are 3-2 at home this season, but their two losses have been to conference opponents. Iowa has been solid on the road this year, posting a 4-1 record away from Iowa City.
Iowa’s defense is one of the best in the Big Ten, led by junior goalkeeper Hannah Clark . Clark has been terrific in goal since she became the starter on Sept. 7. She put together four consecutive shutouts and was named the Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 22.
MSU’s offense has been stagnant of late, and the Spartans are in need of more contributors.
“Paige Wester has been spectacular in the run up to chances,” Saxton said. “I’d love to see her break through because if she can get the ball in the back of the net, I think it will free her up. She’ll get in front of the goal a lot here down the stretch.”
The players understand that the offense needs to hold its own as well.
“Scoring in the Michigan game definitely gave us confidence that we needed,” junior forward Allyson Krause said. “Our defense has saved a lot of goals for us, so I think it’s time for the offense to step up and do what we need to do.”
On Sunday, MSU will take on Nebraska (5-4-2 overall, 1-2-2 Big Ten) at 1 p.m. MSU, still searching for its first conference win, will see a familiar style of play from both the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers.
“Both of them play a little more similar to us, defensively. If they don’t get the opportunity to press, they’ll drop in, kind of like Wisconsin did,” Saxton said.
Nebraska’s senior forward Mayme Conroy was recently named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week , after scoring three goals in two games last week . The most impactful of these goals came last Sunday, in the form of a game-winner over Maryland in the 96th minute.
The outlook for Nebraska was very bright entering this season, as the Cornhuskers were coming off a year in which they won both the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles. Nebraska entered its 2014 campaign at No. 13 in the NSCAA/Continental Tire Division I Preseason rankings but has since struggled.
MSU has dealt with off-the-field concerns over the past week, but Saxton believes his team is ready for another weekend of games.
“We are very focused,” Saxton said. “They (the players) did a great job of handling things. They handled the distractions very well. It was not an issue.”
As with most games in the Big Ten, MSU will see two very talented teams this weekend. If the Spartans hope to re-enter the talk of the conference, they will need to scrap together a victory in the next two games.