SANTA BARBARA, Cali. — The Michigan State men's soccer would make their first Final Four appearance since 1968 in Santa Barbara, California on Friday night, but would struggle to hold back the Akron Zips for the second time this season, eliminating the Spartans from the College Cup Championship.
The Zips defeated the Spartans 5-1 in their under the lights match-up Friday night, after Akron defeated them back on Oct. 9, 2-1.
“Soccer can be the highest of highs like when we beat James Madison,” coach Damon Rensing said. “Sometimes it can be cruel. It was a tough game tonight.”
In the first half of the Final Four matchup against Michigan State and Akron, the Spartans struggled to get the ball against goaltender Ben Lundt after consecutive rebound attempts. The Zips would have the advantage in shots, 5-4.
Akron would be the first to strike against redshirt senior goalkeeper Jimmy Hague on a rebound goal off a failed-header that bounced off the top post in the 15 minute mark.
“I think of initially after the goal, they didn’t test us as much as we would of liked,...” junior midfielder Giuseppe Barone said. “I think after the first 15-20 minutes they were ready to go.”
This, however, is not the Zips first time playing in Santa Barbara for the championship after winning their first national title in 2010. Michigan State on the other hand has been struggling to reach their end goal since the last time they became co-champions in 1968.
While keeping pressure on Akron’s offense junior defender Michael Wetungu got tangled with one of the Zips and ended up kicking the ball out of bounds. Wentungu laid there for a few minutes while smashing his hand into the field in frustration only to be taken off the field of an apparent injury, but would return later in the game.
Due to the out of bounds kick, this allowed Akron to receive a corner kick. From there they would score their second goal of the match to secure their lead. The Spartans still struggled to find the back of the net.
“We regrouped in the second half, we came out for seven minutes there and had a chance to get a chance to make it 2-1,” Rensing said.
To start off the second half of the game, Akron would show their dominance once again increasing their lead by three on a free kick. The ball went past Hague to find the top corner of the net.
A little over 12 minutes later in the 64th minute, Akron would score again right in front of the goalie box to bring their lead to four.
“They did a great job playing through lines and they were kind of flying from the start,” senior defender Corrigan said. “They did a great job of holding pressure and not letting us play out of the back.”
Hague has only allowed two goals or less in every game this season, with seven shutouts.
After trailing for a good portion of the match, the Spartans would find their edge to score their first goal of the game. Redshirt sophomore defender Patrick Nielsen would made a header goal after a corner kick made by senior defender John Freitag.
But they would not be celebrating for too long, as a few minutes later Akron would strike again on a rebound to make it 5-1, and ultimately shut the door on the Spartans' season.
“We’re just proud that we were able to represent Michigan State on this stage,” Rensing said.