After failing to secure a win in their first seven games, Michigan State men’s soccer (1-6-2) drew scrutiny, as many now consider them out of the College Cup race.
Well, that winless team just defeated a then-ranked and undefeated No. 22 Rutgers team — and by three goals.
In the game where the Spartans took down Rutgers (6-1-2), they showed flashes of the 2018 team that made it to the Final Four of the College Cup. But, to be fair, this team has shown flashes of last year’s team all season. It just didn’t result in goals until last night.
In each loss this year, Michigan State has fallen by no more than one goal, losing 0-1 to both current No. 21 Notre Dame (4-3-1) and No. 10 Washington (8-1-0), as each team’s goals came within minutes of the half or 90 minute mark.
Michigan State was able to carry their fast-paced momentum from a strong performance against Notre Dame into conference play last week against Rutgers. After putting up three goals in their first seven games, the Spartans were able to tack on two goals in the first half against Rutgers and add a statement goal in the second half.
The Spartans have not seen captains — senior midfielder Giuseppe Barone and redshirt junior defender Patrick Nielsen — consistently in the lineup or in the lineup at all. This has resulted in, for the most part, a more inexperienced and young starting lineup that endured constant position shifting.
It appears like the young team just needed a little more time to get things figured out. Having the pieces to put together a winning team, and showing it time and time again in each close loss or draw, the Spartans might’ve just solved the puzzle against Rutgers.
In the game against Rutgers, everything clicked. If the same Spartan team that showed up this past Friday shows up for the rest of the games this season, the Spartans could see similar results as last year.
Strong play from sophomore forward Farai Mutatu and true freshman defender Nick Stone has contributed to the Spartans’ recent success, along with what could be an All-Big Ten season from redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Hunter Morse.
Overall, several role players have assumed bigger roles and are now learning to fill them better and flow with each other. This team has taken their play to a Even with five losses, this team is far from being written off as contenders.
Forty-eight teams make the College Cup, 24 of which are conference winners. Michigan State has a couple of ways to be one of those 48 teams.
Now 1-1 in Big Ten play, after falling to Penn State (5-1-2) 0-3 on Tuesday night, the Spartans are still in good shape. Coming off of two good games prior to a hiccup against Penn State, the Spartans could put themselves in a good position for the Big Ten Tournament. After Rutgers’ loss, it’s likely that the only ranked Big Ten team for the time being will be Indiana, Michigan State’s last regular season match-up.
If the Spartans can manage to pull out a winning record in a relatively even playing field in the Big Ten and end their regular season with a victory against Indiana, they may not even need the Big Ten Tournament to make their College Cup argument. But if they can come out of the Big Ten victorious, they could lock themselves in position for another Cup run.
With the constant emergence and high-level play of Michigan State’s remaining roster, they could set themselves on the track to finish very strong.
Good teams know that it isn’t how you start, it’s how you finish.
This Spartan team is a good one, and with their intensity as of late, this is a team that needs to be taken very seriously. Despite their record, the green and white have the potential, and players to put together another winning season and make another deep run into the College Cup bracket.