On Labor Day, the Spartans sauntered over to DeMartin Stadium, looking more confused than anything. They tried all day long to put it together: different formations, varying attacks and a flurry of substitutes to try and get something, anything, going as the opposition poured it on.
Nothing worked. So, what happened?
Senior midfielder Luke Morrell summed it up best.
“Honestly, today, nothing was good,” Morrell said. “I just feel that no one was up for it today.”
Michigan State (2-2) fell to Bowling Green (3-0-1) in a lackluster outing that saw the Spartans fail to generate any meaningful offensive or defensive pressure as BGSU opened up the scoring first and never looked back. From start to finish, the Falcons were louder, stronger and more aggressive, while the Spartans seemed to wilt as time went on.
Michigan State Head Coach Damon Rensing was visibly frustrated and took credit for his side’s mediocre effort in their most head-scratching loss of the season.
“Us coaches got to take responsibility for this,” Rensing said. “I didn’t have the guys ready to go. The leaders didn’t have them ready to go... There’s no reason not to be ready on your fourth game of a homestand.”
BGSU set the tone early, earning and maintaining possession while disrupting MSU’s passing with a laboring high press. Although the pressure from BGSU served to disjoint MSU’s offensive attack, senior midfielder Jack Beck said a lack of foresight contributed to passing miscues that would trouble the Spartans all afternoon.
“We just didn’t think about the next pass,” Beck said. “We kind of got a little tunnel vision, and we just didn’t play through it like we were supposed to.”
Despite racking up six shots in the first half, MSU rarely threatened, and leaned on a conservative style of play as BGSU continued to compact and stretch the field on their way to generating chances. Senior goalkeeper Hunter Morse answered the call with athletic saves in the 21st and 27th minutes, and Morrell had the Spartan’s best goal attempt of the day, a light, precise header, blocked by junior goalkeeper Logan Kowalczyk.
Bowling Green finally capitalized with a header from senior defender Jacob Erlandson off a cross from the right side from sophomore midfielder Kyle Cusimano to take a 1-0 lead. With only ten minutes left, the Spartans had failed to escape with a clean sheet in the first half, a necessity given their poor form.
“You got to find ways to get in 0-0 at halftime when you’re not playing great,” Rensing said.
The second half brought more energy to both teams, but, as was the case all afternoon, Bowling Green continued to press on, boosted by a raucous, cheering bench. Later in the second half, it was Cusimano who got it on the break from junior midfielder Nathan Masters and took Morse one-on-one to put it in the right corner of the net, 2-0 Bowling Green, as the Spartan defense collapsed.
From there on out, MSU played flat, with only one noteworthy attempt from senior forward Farai Mutatu that was blocked by Kowalczyk. Erlandson later earned a red card for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the biggest cheers at DeMartin all afternoon as he exited the game, leaving the Falcons only able to play with ten men for the rest of the game.
If Erlandson's exit was an opportunity for the Spartans to get back in it, it wasn’t taken. Cusimano notched his second assist in the 74th minute as Roberto Fernandez Garrido made it 3-0 with a powerful finish in the lower right corner of the net.
The shorthanded Falcons continued to attack and confuse an ever-changing MSU lineup as ten different substitutes found their way to the field. Even with a win out of reach, Rensing said he was looking for somebody to spark a run for the Spartans.
“We were just trying to find somebody who wanted to play today,” Rensing said. “Maybe that’s my fault, maybe we never got into a rhythm because I kept subbing, but there wasn’t a lot of things in the first half that told me I got to keep guys in.”
At the conclusion of the match, players and coaches alike were left with far more questions than answers. Beck said the team needs individuals to step up and do what it takes to win to prevent losses of this degree.
“It takes 11 guys to do their role to get a win,” Beck said. “When one, two, three, four, seven or eight, nine, ten guys don’t do their job, we get results like this.”
While MSU outshot BGSU 10-8, the majority of said shots were off-target. Rensing said it’s even worse his team conceded three goals on eight shots and added that his side will have to make defense a greater focus in order to win.
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“To me, it’s all about our defending,” Rensing said. “We’ve given up a goal in each game, so, until we rectify that as a group, we’re going to have to these kind of up and down type games... We go to a Final Four in 2018, we’re not giving up three goals to a MAC team.”
Rensing, Beck and Morrell all agreed that the loss was due to the team not being mentally prepared, as opposed to any formational deficiencies.
“They came in here with the chance to beat a Big Ten team, and they played like that,” Rensing said. “We came in and played like we were just going to win the game. When you do that, that’s what happens.”
MSU begins a three-game road trip against Tulsa on September 11 at 8 p.m. The match will be broadcast on ESPN+, marking it the Spartan’s first nationally televised men's soccer game.
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