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FINAL: Michigan State women’s soccer suffers late collapse with 2-1 loss to Penn State

October 25, 2021
<p>Redshirt junior goalkeeper Lauren Kozal (00) jumps to catch a ball at the net during the game against Penn State on Oct. 24, 2021. The Spartans were defeated by the Nittany Lions 1-2.</p>

Redshirt junior goalkeeper Lauren Kozal (00) jumps to catch a ball at the net during the game against Penn State on Oct. 24, 2021. The Spartans were defeated by the Nittany Lions 1-2.

Photo by Lauren Snyder | The State News

Michigan State women’s soccer (10-4-3, 5-4-1) fell to Penn State (11-6, 5-5) in a gutting late collapse to close out the regular season.

In a match with considerable seeding implications for the upcoming Big Ten tournament, Penn State outshot Michigan State 13-6 while the Spartans retreated from playing barely any meaningful offensive football and the Nittany Lions kept their foot on the gas to generate the few game-breaking chances they needed.

Despite the loss, Michigan State still retained home-field advantage for their first Big Ten Tournament match next Sunday.

Mired in the gloom and chill of a late October afternoon, Penn State started the match aggressively, displaying a combative press and burgeoning offense that looked to wear Michigan State down in and around the box. Senior midfielder Rachel Wasserman struck first, sending an early shot on goal only to be gently saved by redshirt junior goalkeeper Lauren Kozal.

From there, the Nittany Lions built off their persistence and established a foothold on the Spartan’s side of the pitch, peppering Kozal with a barrage of shots from Wasserman, senior midfielder Sam Coffey and sophomore midfielder Natalie Wilson. Michigan State defenders, such as senior Samantha White and junior Raegan Cox, made key deflections and created a nuisance for a Penn State squad eager to capitalize.

The Spartans have made attacking football a part of their identity all season and yet, that style was virtually nonexistent. Senior forward Camryn Evans led the way, missing wide on two of her chances, and junior forward Lauren DeBeau had one attempt on Penn State’s net, a bouncing shot saved by redshirt junior goalkeeper Katherine Asman.

As time ticked away, it was clear the tone of the match had been set. Penn State would mount drive after drive, only for Michigan State to combat each and every storm with Kozal and a backline that wasn’t afraid to derail each worthy attempt.

Only question: who would break first?

With eight minutes remaining in the half, Penn State looked to take another chance as senior midfielder Kerry Abello rushed down the right side of the pitch into Michigan State’s territory, only for DeBeau to answer with an artful steal on her end. DeBeau flew up the pitch, dragging Abello along—only for Abello to put a little too much into her tackle and get called for the foul.

Free kick, MSU. From just beyond midfield, it was a tall, looping ball and fifth-year forward Ava Cook accepted it in front of Penn State’s net, bouncing it off her head and into the vicinity of three defenders and a scrambling Evans, once again looking for another opportunity.

Evans worked her way back to the ball, turned around and swiped a dribbler past two defenders and Asman to the bottom right corner of the goal, 1-0 MSU. It was the Spartans' only on-target attempt in the first half, a complete backbreaker for a Nittany Lions squad that had done everything right up to this point.

As for the Spartans? It was the one chance they got and they made the most of it, surviving a few minor Penn State attempts and escaping into halftime unscathed.

In the second half, the match developed a more set-in-stone cadence than what was seen in the first: Penn State jockeys for opportunities in front of Michigan State’s net, Michigan State gets a turnover to wager a brief offensive possession and Penn State returns down the pitch for another go at it.

Rinse. Repeat.

It appeared as if it would take one more break to wrap things up in green and white or give a desperate Penn State side new life in a game that meant everything to their postseason chances. Doubling down, the Nittany Lions started the break with a long pass to the box from redshirt junior midfielder Maddie Myers.

Kozal recognized what was about to come her way and moved forward to get the jump on redshirt junior midfielder Ally Schlegel’s attempt at contact. Her header dotted up and into the left side of the net behind Kozal, a rare mistake leading to a crucial equalizer, 1-1.

With seven minutes to go, sophomore forward Ellie Wheeler rose up for another header. Kozal saw it but this would be no mistake as it bounced into the right side of the net for the knockout punch, 2-1 Penn State. The Spartans, stunned by their late collapse, sent in plenty of substitutes to supplement Michigan State’s offensive attack but failed to generate any meaningful chances of any kind.

And as the buzzer sounded, there was only the loss, the cold and the DeMartin crowd waiting for them at the tail-end of the regular season.

Michigan State Head Coach Jeff Hosler expressed disappointment in his team’s finish, adding that they lacked attention to details, energy and urgency in the second half after establishing themselves with a strong start. Regardless, he said games like this are a good primer for the Spartans to learn about the unique grind of tournament play.

“I hope our response to tonight is that that’s kind of postseason play,” Hosler said. “You got to make key plays down the stretch. It’s survive and advance no matter what tournament you’re in.”

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The Spartans return to action next Sunday in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal matchup against Iowa at DeMartin Stadium. The match will be broadcast on BTN + with a time to be decided later this week.

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