Senior night celebrations Thursday evening at DeMartin Soccer Stadium were halted by a slow start by Michigan State (5-8-3, 0-7-2 Big Ten) and the Scarlett Knight's ability to dominate time of possession early, as Rutgers (10-2-5, 6-1-3 Big Ten) spoiled the night with a 1-0 victory and gave the Spartans their sixth straight loss.
Rutgers, ranked 23rd nationally, dominated the first half of play, out-shooting the Spartans eight to one. Rutgers’ suffocating defense was on full display early, as MSU was unable to retain the ball for any significant possession.
“They're a very defensive team,” freshman forward Camryn Evans said. “They’re known for having a really strong defense and countering, and they did, and they capitalized on it. Their whole back line was really solid.”
The Scarlet Knights bombarded MSU early, as forward Nneka Moneme paced up the right side but was eventually challenged and stopped by junior goalkeeper Reilley Ott. Midfielder Nicole Whitley continued Rutgers’ push later in the half, as she weaved around defenders into the Spartans' box and created a potentially dangerous opportunity that was easily saved by Ott.
Rutgers refused to give up the ball while playing a very physical game, as MSU’s frustration showed late in the half.
“I thought we kept our composure pretty well and gave it back,” coach Tom Saxton said. “We hit hard as well. It’s a tough game. We’re growing; we’re learning to be a Big Ten team and tonight was overall a step forward despite the final score.”
After getting tied up with Rutgers defender Madison Pogarch in the 38th minute, junior forward Lydia Franks aggressively challenged Pogarch again, committing a foul in apparent retaliation at the top of the Spartans' box. The ensuing free kick was handled by Ott. The match would head to halftime tied at 0.
MSU came out a new team in the second half, creating multiple quality chances in the opening minutes. The time of possession was nearly even as the Spartans created the majority of the scoring opportunities.
Evans delivered a ball deep into the Rutgers box just out of reach of junior forward Brittany Tanner. Evans later struck a shot off a corner kick rebound which was eventually deflected out.
The Spartans’ best opportunity came off freshman forward Gia Wahlberg’s shot, as the rebound came out to Evans. A questionable offside call against Wahlberg negated what would have been a timely Evans goal to the left post.
“It’s frustrating, especially when you have success and you think you got something and they call it back,” Evans said. “They were a physical team and there were some big hits. We’re already kind of roughed up from the rest of the season, so I would say frustration was a big part of today.”
Rutgers’ few opportunities were shut down by the Spartans’ defense. Junior defender Michaela Kovacs ensured MSU maintained a chance to take the lead in the match, executing multiple slide tackles to clear any push Rutgers was trying to create.
In the 79th minute, Evans, in a desperate push to create a scoring chance, was beat to the ball in the Rutgers box and committed a foul, resulting in a Rutgers goal kick.
Rutgers threatened for the first time in the half in the 83rd minute, as Moneme rifled a cross to the left side of the box just out of reach of forward Tiernny Wiltshire’s header.
MSU’s futile cross attempts late in the period were gathered up by goalkeeper Meagan McClelland, ending regulation nodded at 0-0. Despite firing five shots in regulation to Rutgers’ nine, the Spartans forced McClelland to make just one save to Ott’s six.
In each overtime period, there were limited opportunities for both sides. The lone breakthrough came in game-ending fashion in the 109th minute, as Rutgers forward Nicole Whitley shot to the left post and scored the match’s lone goal.
“We’re yet to win a Big Ten game and that’s a big part of (our frustration)," Evans concluded. “It didn’t go our way today but I think the will and the drive to win and get on the right side of things is definitely what’s motivating us to play hard.”
The Spartans will look to record their first conference win Sunday when they travel to Ann Arbor to face the University of Michigan.