Michigan State mentally, physically ready for familiar Akron
The Michigan State men's soccer team has made it to the Elite Eight four times in the past five seasons. And now, for the first time since 1968, the team will travel to Santa Barbara, California to play in the College Cup against Akron.
MSU is the third Big Ten team, along with Indiana and Maryland, in the College Cup, giving them an advantage since they have played all three teams this season. The last time the Spartans and Akron met was back on Oct. 9, where Akron won 2-1.
“I think it helps in the fact that for us going into the Final Four for the first time for the College Cup, there are a lot of different things that go on and distractions,” MSU coach Damon Rensing said in a Tuesday press conference. “We don’t have to watch film. We know Akron and they know us … You'd rather dance with the devil you know than the one you don’t know.”
In their last meeting, Akron would strike a little over eight minutes into the game to put themselves on the board. Junior defender Michael Wetungu would get the Spartans lone goal, and was assisted by teammates junior midfielder Giuseppe Barone and senior forward DeJuan Jones just after the halfway point of the game, but failed to score again when Akron took the game back at 81:20.
“I think when we played them it was in the thick of our season,” senior forward Ryan Sierakowski said. “We were dealing with a couple of injuries. (senior defender) Connor Corrigan was out for that game, and he has a huge impact on our team … Having everyone fresh and ready to go is definitely going to change the way this game plays out.”
Akron lost nine seniors from last season, but Rensing still views the Zips as a tough team to match-up against.
“They are a new group,” Rensing said. “They have been gelling and getting better since we played them … I think it will be a little bit of a different game. Both teams are playing better than they played that evening.”
In his final season, Sierakowski is moving up in the Spartan rankings, currently placing 10th all-time on the scoring charts. He has 82 points in his 81 games in the green and white jersey, and has 33 goals and 16 assists in his career. This makes him the first Spartan to lead the team in points for four straight seasons.
He went on a streak of nine games without scoring a goal until the first round of the tournament when the team defeated the University of Illinois-Chicago 2-0 back on Nov. 15. He would also go the first three games of the season without scoring until scoring a goal against UC Riverside.
“I like to think of myself as a fairly confident person,” Sierakowski said. “It’s easy to be confident when I have a team around me like I do. I know if I’m not scoring, if I’m not getting assists, I know I have people around me who can.”
Along with Sierakowski (21 points), Barone (16 points) and Jones (15 points) follow behind in the top point leaders for the Spartans this season.
“Credit to those three guys,” Rensing said. “It takes responsibility. You only get a few moments in games to win. It takes a lot for seniors to take that responsibility and say, ‘We can win or lose this game with me.’ … Those guys are important for us.”
Coming into their freshman year, Sierakowski and the other seniors knew they wanted to be the team to bring a title home to East Lansing. Another player who wanted that was senior defender John Freitag.
Freitag transferred from DePaul University in Chicago before the 2017 season. Since then, he has scored four goals and six assists as a Spartan and wants to help be apart the winning culture.
“That was one of my main goals in coming here,” Freitag said. “It was nothing individual. I personally wanted to get allocated to that sort of thing to come help contribute to a team, and help bring a championship and be around a winning culture and winning mentality.”
Not only do they want to win the title for themselves, but for the community of East Lansing. Rensing described the excitement he felt from the Izzone and other fans during the Michigan State vs. Iowa basketball game on Monday after their team was brought out for their accomplishments.
They have gone to restaurants and other places throughout the season, but some of the things they have experienced in the last week shows how much this achievement means to the Spartan family. It is truly something they will cherish looking back on it.
“That just hit home on just how much of an affect this team has had,” Rensing said. “We had a pregame meal at Pizza House and watched the first half of MSU and Rutgers basketball, and as they left, the restaurant was packed and they stood up and clapped.”