With so much building up to the start of the conference season, head coach Damon Rensing said MSU delivered their “most complete game” of the season when MSU, (3-1), defeated Rutgers, (0-4), 4-0 Friday afternoon.
MSU came into the game with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory against Columbia fresh on their minds. Rutgers entered the game 0-3 on the season, with all three losses coming to ranked opponents.
“It was a scary matchup,” Rensing said. “For us to keep a clean sheet, I don’t care who you play in college soccer, to get a shutout is important.”
The MSU defense racked up their first shutout of the season, while the Spartans’ four goals were also their highest total in any game this season. Early on however, a goal seemed far from guaranteed.
MSU had trouble getting the offense rolling in the first half. Although the Spartans owned a majority of the possession in the first half, they missed their chances and left the door open.
In the 44th minute, however, a run by freshman forward Giuseppe Barone cornered Rutgers into taking him down just three yards outside of the box. Sophomore forward Ryan Sierakowski stepped up and commanded a free kick, standing alone. Sierakowski’s shot headed straight over the wall, and then sharply turned toward the other side of the goal. Rutgers goalkeeper David Greczek already committed, attempted a dive back towards his post, but was left floundering in mid-air, the ball had already in the back of the net.
“Fortunately, we got the first goal,” junior midfielder Ken Krolicki said, the goal serving as the first time MSU had scored the opening goal all season long. “We've got to, you know, go for the next one.”
For Sierakowski, it was the third goal that he had scored against Rutgers in two years, after scoring his first collegiate goal and a second against Rutgers last season.
“We were getting the chances, we were getting good looks and just execution,” Sierakowski said. “Obviously the deflection helped a little bit, but we’ll take it and we’ll keep running with it.”
The breakthrough for the Spartans came just 21 seconds before halftime and gave birth to a whole new half of soccer.
“At the start of the second half, we knew that Rutgers was really going to bring it up a notch," Sierrakowski said. "They were going to try to get that equalizer. We wanted to defend well, keep that clean sheet, and then attacking-wise, just keep doing what we were doing. We knew the chances would fall, and they did the second half.”
In the second half, Rutgers started pressuring MSU high on the field and attempting two long-range shots, although neither touched the target. MSU quickly reasserted its dominance in possession and then stamped the game finished in the 63rd minute.
Andrew Herr had the ball on the right wing and looked up to find three teammates in the box. He delivered a mid-height cross to substitute Michael Marcantognini, who brought down the ball and turned from the near post. Upon the corral, Marcantognini backpedaled and saw a gap in the defense, slotting the effort home on his first contribution since coming on.
The strike painted over any lingering hope that the Scarlet Knights had, and Michigan State settled the game into a slow, possession-based attack.
In the 78th minute, the Spartans went on the prowl again, with Krolicki sent a back-heel pass to Herr. At the very top of the box, Herr was untroubled by the defense, which had been fooled by Krolicki’s trip. Herr struck it into the top-left corner, but narrowly missed off the post.
Instantly though, Hunter Barone shot the rebound to his feet. With Greczek displaced after attempting the save, Barone’s slow-roller made the game 3-0 in the 78th minute.
Just two minutes later, MSU was rewarded for its incessant pressure. Winning the ball high up the field, Barone went head-on down the sideline before sending a cross towards net. His attempted pass was blocked, however, but fell between Krolicki and Rutgers defender Kieran Kemmerer. Krolicki was first to the ball, but Kemmerer ran Krolicki to the ground, to which a penalty kick resulted.
Krolicki went with a stuttered walk up and Greczek was again committed before being able to make a save. The shot slid into the bottom right corner for Krolicki’s second goal in two games, and MSU reached their final score of the game, 4-0.
“Damon let me take the PK,” Krolicki said. “Thankfully it went in.”
Michigan State’s 4-0 win was their biggest of the year and their second consecutive victory of Rutgers. It also gave MSU the defensive security that they needed to prepare for two in-state games ahead.
“I thought it was a very professional performance,” Rensing said. “That would be the term that I would title it with.”