As Michigan State men’s soccer took the field at DeMartin Stadium Saturday night, it looked to come out with an outcome in the Elite Eight it hasn’t had since 1968 — a win.
The Spartans (14-4-4, 4-2-2 in Big Ten) did just that, led by forward Ryan Sierakowski’s two goals, beating James Madison (15-5-3, 6-2 in Colonial Athletic Association) 2-1 and moving on to the College Cup for the first time since 1968.
An experience Sierakowski couldn’t believe.
“It's unbelievable,” Sierakowski said. “This has been a goal of ours since I got here, and it was devastating losing to Indiana last year and ever since that game this is what we’ve played for, been grinding for and to do in front of a crowd like that was unbelievable. I couldn’t
have dreamt it up any better.”
The game didn’t start off in the Spartans' favor however, as JMU got on the board first with defenseman Niclas Mohr hitting the back of the net in the 31st minute to give the Dukes a 1-0 lead going into halftime, and his first goal this season.
At that point, MSU was tied with Dukes in shots with three and led in corner kicks 3-1, while JMU led in fouls 6-1.
Which MSU coach Damon Rensing said is typical when a team gets the lead.
“When they have the lead, they are going to protect so the team who’s losing is probably going to get more shots,” Rensing said. “For a while there we really didn't get a ton of great chances and then I thought they started to come in the second half and finally broke through.”
The Spartans did break through, as by the end of the game MSU favored in shots 12-8, corner kicks 8-3, while the Dukes finished the game leading in fouls 8-3.
“I thought our guys showed great resilience,” Rensing said. “We talked about being patient, we had 45 minutes to score, we thought if we got one (goal), the second would come.”
Rensing was right, as first-year JMU coach Paul Zazenski said the Spartans had too many opportunities in the second half.
“You play against a team like Michigan State, you can’t give them extra chances,” Zazenski said. “I thought we were unfortunate to not score a few of our own. You know, we had one or two that could’ve bounce our way and went in. But, that’s like what I said, this stage of the game in the Elite Eight, you can’t give good teams extra chances and they buried them. So, credit to them.”
The buried goal by Sierakowski was 71:09 in the game to make it 1-1, after he was fed by forward Farai Mutatu and midfielder Robbie Cort.
“(Mutatu) is a dangerous player,” Rensing said. “He’s got some thing that you can’t teach.”
Then, in the 81st minute, Sierakowski told defenseman Connor Corrigan, who had the ball and was approaching the net, to pass it to whoever was at midfield.
“Once I was in position, I knew Ryan would get to that ball,” Corrigan said. “And credit the coaches. They have been working on those early one-time balls across the box the day before every game.”
And once Sierakowski got the ball, he heeled it in 81:20 into the contest, giving the Spartans a 2-1 lead and Corrigan his first assist of the season.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a guy (Corrigan),” Rensing said. “If only you knew what he went through this year. To come back and get the game-winning assist, that’s special.”
The special assist secured the special 2-1 victory for MSU against a “very, very good” JMU team.
“You just keep plugging away and we told our guys we weren't going to change how
we played until the last seven, eight minutes of the game,” Rensing said. We really didn’t change how we played until we had the 2-1 lead in the last eight minutes and then we just held on for absolute dear life.”
And the win makes the Spartans the third Big Ten team in this year’s College Cup, with No. 2-seed Indiana (20-2-1, 8-0) and No. 11-seed Maryland (11-6-4, 4-4) the other two.
The lone team outside of the Big Ten, is MSU’s College Cup opponent Akron (14-6-2, 1-2-1 in MAC), who the Spartans fell 2-1 to at DeMartin on Oct. 9.
But for now, the Spartans are going to enjoy this win before they play the Zips at 8 p.m. Dec. 7 in Santa Barbara, California.
Especially the 10 seniors such as Sierakowski and Corrigan, who got their final career win in DeMartin Stadium.
A win Sierakowski said he didn’t think him and his team wouldn’t be able to get, considering MSU was on the bubble before the NCAA tournament field was announced.
“As soon as we knew we were going to host James Madison, it was just — I don’t know, unbelievable,” Sierakowski said. “The (Red Cedar) Rowdies were great tonight. Everyone who came out was loud and supportive. It was unbelievable.”