MSU came into the day with their confidence high and hungry for a win. While the results may have not been in their favor, as they fell to Michigan 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, they should leave Ann Arbor with their heads held just as high as when they got there.
The Spartans played with the same offensive intensity that they displayed in their 4-1 win against Wisconsin. Unfortunately, they just weren’t able to capitalize.
Farai Mutatu came out and set an aggressive pace for MSU. Mutatu took two early shots, in the third and fifth minutes, as it was clear MSU wanted to strike early.
Throughout the first half, MSU was playing faster than Michigan, speeding up the pace of the game in their favor. Even defensively, the Spartans were always sending a player at Michigan’s goalie to try and disrupt their runs down the field from the start.
In the 33rd minute MSU goalie Hunter Morse was tested and made an amazing save, pushing up and blocking a Michigan shot on the left side, to keep the game tied at 0-0.
The first half ended in a stalemate between the teams, but MSU seemed to have the advantage. MSU finished the half with seven shots, Mutatu with three, as Michigan only had three shots themselves.
Early in the second half, Michigan would break the tie in the 53rd minute as they ran deep to the right side of MSU’s territory and a pass to the middle found Michigan’s Kevin Buca who slid a shot past Morse.
Despite giving up one in the 53rd minute, Morse had a good game and made another great save in the 65th minute as he stopped a solid header from Michigan, stopping the lead from growing out of reach.
MSU would have some injury concerns as the game went on. In the 72nd minute, Luke Morrell left the game after colliding with a Michigan player going for a header. Another scare came for MSU only a minute later as Mutatu collided with the Michigan goalie on a scoring opportunity. Mutatu would come up walking gingerly, but he would stay in the game, knowing that MSU would need him in the game if they had any hope of coming back.
MSU’s offense still didn’t go away quietly, as they continued to push for that equalizer to extend the game. In the 73rd minute Mutatu sent a cross into the box from the left, and Olu Ogunwale just barely whiffed the ball, missing another chance to even up the game. In the 76th minute, desperate to hold on and extend their season, MSU subbed in Gianni Ferri, who had been hurt in the week leading up to the game.
Shortly after Ferri checked in, Jack Beck was set up with MSU’s final chance to score. In the 77th minute, Beck had a free kick outside the right of Michigan’s box. As Beck sent a hard-kicked, left-footed shot at the Michigan goal, it looked as though MSU would score in dramatic fashion. At the last second, Michigan goalie Owen Finnerty made a leaping save to push the shot just inches over the crossbar, spoiling MSU’s final chance to keep the game alive.
Similar to so many games this season, MSU played a great 90 minutes of soccer, they unfortunately just couldn’t capitalize on any of their 16 shots, and without offensive support, it is hard to rely on a shutout to win you the game.
"When you get to these high-level college games it comes down to one or two plays," MSU Head Coach Damon Rensing said. "Michigan is a good team, they're going to get a couple of chances, that we for the most part are limited in. ... It just came down to one play that they made and a couple we came up short on."
With most of their players returning and with a string of positive games at the end of the season, they know their core of players has what it takes to succeed.
"Our starting point for next fall will be much further along," Rensing said. "Instead of starting from ground zero, which we did this fall, we can start at week 12."
MSU most certainly looks to return to its final-four form that it had just a few years ago.
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