The Michigan State men’s soccer team has begun the season on a positive note, notching three wins and a draw over the first three competitive matches, all at DeMartin Stadium. After a 1-0 win over South Florida and a goalless draw against Tulsa, the Spartans posted a 3-2 victory over Canisius on Friday, followed by a 5-1 win over University of California-Riverside on Monday.
Senior winger Hunter Barone said that the team saw the Tulsa result as a wake-up call for the Spartans, who were ranked seventh nationally in the preseason.
“I don’t think it set us back, if anything it was more of a reality check,” he said. “Against Tulsa - the first half especially - I don’t think we came out really to win the game. I think we came out with the mentality that we were gonna win the game, not that we had to work hard. I think that helped us.”
Coach Damon Rensing, in his tenth season as the Spartans head coach, said the team does not have a single vocal leader, but rather a whole council of upperclassman leadership.
“It’s kind of a lead by committee right now with this group,” he said. “Some of them can be vocal, some of them lead by example, it just kind of depends on what the need is, who’s playing well and who’s confident. So I think it’s been working out pretty well.”
The Spartans have reached the Elite Eight three of the past five seasons, but have not qualified for the College Cup (men’s soccer’s version of the Final Four) since 1968. Senior captain forward DeJuan Jones downplays that as a spoken goal among the team.
“One of the stated goals we have is just to do the little things, whether it’s getting back on defense for a teammate that just went forward, or getting in the right position for free kicks,” Jones said.
Barone, older brother of attacking midfielder Giuseppe, accounted for two goals and two assists through the first four games of the young season.
“I got an assist the first game,” the elder Barone said, of his 87th minute corner kick assist to freshman Farai Mutatu against South Florida. “Playing more minutes I feel a bit more responsibility to help the team out...us as an attacking group, including me, we all need to step up together.”
"He's a great player," right back John Freitag said of Barone. "He means a lot to this team. He has incredible passion for the game, which is awesome, and a lot of talent going forward. [He is] a really creative player."
Rensing said that unlike most elite teams, the Spartans allow the other team to dictate their style of play.
“We want to get on the ball as much as we can, so if the other team has it, you’ve gotta get it back from them,” Rensing said. “So if it means by pressing, we’ll do it. If it means sitting back and letting them turn the ball over to us, we’ll do that as well. So I don’t really focus too much on it (the style of defending), but we want to get on the ball as much as we can, and keep the ball on the attacking end.”
Rensing downplayed the importance of early-season rankings, focusing on results rather than expectations.
"Being ranked fifth or seventh or whatever we are right now doesn’t really matter, this team has got a lot to prove," he said.
The Spartans head on the road for the first time Friday, facing Bowling Green.
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