The NCAA Division 1 bracket for the men’s soccer tournament was released early Monday afternoon in front of about 100 Michigan State men's soccer players, coaches and athletic staff at 1855 Place on MSU's campus.
They watched and reacted to the Spartans being selected into the tournament for the 20th time in school history.
“I’m super excited, (it’s) a big relief. We were really hoping — we thought we'd still get in, but we’re really happy to get another chance and go out there," redshirt senior goalkeeper Jimmy Hague said at the Spartans' tournament watch party Monday.
The Spartans fell to Maryland 0-1 in overtime in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament on Nov. 4. MSU won its first matchup with the Terrapins on Oct. 5.
“Well I think the conference speaks a lot (for itself)," MSU coach Damon Rensing said. "You have good teams who get challenged and you win some tough games, winning at Maryland, a nonconference game like Notre Dame. I think our nonconference schedule playing South Florida, Tulsa, Akron, those games really speak volumes to the committee when you play good nonconference and then play the Big Ten. It’ll be hopefully a fun ride and these players, they’re prepared."
The Spartans received a No. 7 seed in last year's tournament, and advanced as far as the Elite Eight before losing a penalty shootout with Indiana.
“It’s a brand new season, so we’re 0-0 right now," Hague said. "Any of the 48 teams could win it. We’re going to give it everything we have these next couple days of practice and give it our all. ”
MSU will face a not-too familiar opponent in its opening matchup in University of Illinois-Chicago at DeMartin Stadium Thursday night.
“We haven’t played them recently, but we have in the past," Rensing said. "It’s a really good program. They have some very good technical players; they’ve won some big games. They’ve beaten Big Ten teams before, so it’ll be a good soccer game. (UIC head coach) Sean Phillips does a very good job there. We’re excited and it’ll be a great game.”
The Spartans didn't lose a game this season until their 14th game against Wisconsin on Sept. 30.
“I mean I think our defense and everybody has been solid all year, so I think we just got to keep doing what we have been doing and hopefully the ball will bounce our way. I think we got unfortunate in a couple games. We just get some lucky chances, (and) we’ll be all right,” Hague said.
While the Spartans didn't receive a seed in the tournament, Rensing said it's a privilege for his team just to be in the field.
"Well I think that’s the first thing, it's just not another tournament … I'd say it's a privilege," Rensing said. "It's hard. It's really hard to get into the NCAA tournament. I used math the other day, I mean you've got 48 teams out of 206. But in a conference like the Big Ten, you know, you've got to win the automatic, which is really hard. So basically you got to focus on getting at large, which is 24 out of 206. It's a little over ten percent of Division 1 college teams play, and for us to be in there the 3 of the last 4, 8 of the last 10, it's awesome and it's a privilege and we're very proud."
The winner between MSU and UIC will take on fourth seed Louisville this Sunday.