Tuesday, July 27, 2021

MSU keeper Lauren Kozal continues strong play, but women's soccer suffers 1st loss

March 1, 2021
<p>Michigan State sophomore Lauren Kozal (00) prepares to return the ball in the Spartans&#x27; loss to University of Minnesota on Mar. 1, 2021.</p>

Michigan State sophomore Lauren Kozal (00) prepares to return the ball in the Spartans' loss to University of Minnesota on Mar. 1, 2021.

Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

MSU made sure to grab their early morning coffee as they headed back to their home away from home at Schoolcraft College to take on Minnesota. 

The Golden Gophers would outlast the Spartans 1-0 in a game that came right down to the wire despite another strong performance from goalkeeper Lauren Kozal, who had six saves and now has totaled 16 on the year, good for fourth-best in the Big Ten through three games.

Early in the game, it was evident that MSU was in for a long day, as Minnesota dominated possession of the ball, keeping it on MSU’s side of the field. 

“Our forward line’s decision-making in the first half was a little too protective,” head coach Tom Saxton said after the match. “We went back a lot when we had chances to go forward."

MSU’s offense sputtered, not getting a single shot in the first half. Even though Minnesota played the aggressor for most of the match, MSU didn’t fold on defense as their backline held strong, anchored by redshirt sophomore goalie Lauren Kozal.

Kozal not only stopped the majority of shots that came her way, but she was aggressive interrupting crosses in the box and leading the defense.

“I just try and focus on keeping my team together...lots of communication and organizing the backline and having them organize the rest of the team,” Kozal said after the loss.

Saxton said Kozal has been amazing through the first games of the season and really is the reason MSU was able to stay within striking distance. Minnesota would finally break through the MSU defense in the 41st minute as the Golden Gophers fired a rocket into the bottom corner of the net, beyond the outstretched gloves of Kozal. With Minnesota firing 11 shots in the first half alone, one was bound to hit the back of the net.

MSU came out of halftime with a higher sense of urgency, securing more possession time and working the ball down the field more often, but bad passes and the fast play of Minnesota continued to frustrate the Spartans.

With the game still at a one-goal difference late in the half, the Spartans hung around and never let Minnesota get comfortable with the lead.

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In the 69th minute of play junior Gia Wahlberg attacked the middle of the field and created an open opportunity for MSU, but the potential equalizer soared left. In the 76th minute senior Danielle Stephan, who shined with two assists against Nebraska, sent a shot over the net on another good look for MSU. Despite the two close chances, MSU was not able to connect in the game despite scoring in both of their first two matches of the season prior to the loss on Monday morning.

In the 86th minute, with the final whistle nearing, the Spartans set up a crucial corner kick to notch an equalizer. As the ball flew into the box, senior Athena Biondi sent a well-hit header at the Minnesota goal. It looked as if MSU took the first step in what would be a dramatic comeback, but Megan Plaschko, the goalie for the Golden Gophers, made an exceptional diving save to close out the comeback hopes of MSU.

MSU’s defense stood strong against a Minnesota team who put a lot of shots on goal, but it put the Spartans on their heels and stopped them from gaining enough momentum.

“We defended so much that we were a little hesitant at times to leave our position and go up and get numbers around the ball and attack,” said Saxton.

The Spartans look to sharpen up their offense before they head to New Jersey to take on another aggressive team in Rutgers on March 4.

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