Michigan State men's soccer has two more matchups to get through before it can truly lock in on tournament action. The first, at home, against No. 7 Maryland tonight and the second, on the road, at Northwestern on Halloween.
They currently sit 6-6-2 overall and 2-2-2 in-conference on the 2021 regular season. They're also coming off a gritty 1-0 win over Ohio State from Sunday.
It's clear they're no stranger to the ups and downs the sport can bring, but Head Coach Damon Rensing has made it known he isn't giving up on them – it's all faith here.
Maryland, on the other hand, sits 10-2-1 overall and 3-1-1 in-conference. They're tied for third place in the Big Ten, only two points away from being first, and are on a current three-win hot-streak, hunting for a fourth.
Maryland leads the overall series with MSU, 5-3-5. The most notable connection, according to umterps.com, is that the teams share the 1968 national championship title.
RPI Blogspot has Maryland ranked at No. 19 and MSU ranked at No. 26, both with chances for at-large bids in the postseason predictions, as of Oct. 22. The only other Big Ten teams in the green area with high chances for at-large bids based on their RPI are Penn State (33) and Michigan (29). Indiana is the only Big Ten team projected to get an auto-bid at No. 20.
Maryland sophomore midfielder Ben Bender was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after scoring two goals, including the game-winning goal against Delaware on Oct. 12. He leads the Terrapins with 10 points on three goals and four assists.
Bender was also included in Top Drawer Soccer's midseason top-100 sophomores, juniors and seniors, ranked at No. 14. MSU senior forward Farai Mutatu came in at No. 92 on the same chart.
Maryland redshirt freshman midfielder/forward Joshua Bolma ran Top Drawer Soccer's midseason top-100 freshman rankings at No. 1, with forward Caden Stafford at No. 82 and defender William Kulvik at No. 91. MSU had no freshman ranked on this chart.
"William Kulvik, Caden Stafford, Joshua Bolma, and so many other players have gone from obscurity to starting lineup for Maryland this season," Diamondback soccer writer Ross O'Keefe said in a text. "And that isn’t for a lack of starting talent, they’re just starting quality. All underclassmen, all very very athletic, and all three have been praised over the course of the season."
Maryland junior goalkeeper Niklas Neumann has put up eight starts in the net, posting 21 saves for a .724 save percentage with eight goals against for a .93 GAA. He posted a pair of solo clean sheets and one combined shut out, to be a part of Maryland's five clean sheets of the 2021 season.
Maryland's defensive record overall has been strong, with two consecutive clean sheets and only three goals given up in seven matches as of late.
"It’s hard to place one strength here or there, because the Terps are a pretty well-balanced team," O'Keefe said in the text. "They have a variety of offensive threats and they have both experience and athleticism on defense. (Neumann) hasn't had as much pressure because of the quality defense, but he’s stepped up when needed. Their weaknesses are more centered around offensive consistency. Because they have so many young players, sometimes that chemistry hasn’t quite been there and has come up lacking at times. When they click though, it’s strong."
MSU collected another clean sheet on Sunday, the first for freshman goalkeeper Lance McGrane, who collected six saves in his DeMartin debut, and sophomore midfielder Vedad Kovac, who scored the game winner and his first goal as a Spartan.
Sophomore midfielder Jack Zugay has shown his efficiency for the Spartans, scoring the game-winning goal against Rutgers on Oct. 10 for his second career goal.
Mutatu and senior midfielder Jack Beck are a ruthless combination on the field for the Spartans. Mutatu has scored six goals, tied for first in the league with Northwestern's Justin Weiss. Beck has collected seven assists and is first in the league, while four different players are tied below him with five assists.
Tonight's "Green Out" will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network at 7 p.m.
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"I would say Maryland (wins) 1-0," O'Keefe said in the text. "The Terps have put it together offensively the last few and confidence is high there. I wouldn’t be shocked to see this stay close because of the stakes. ... Maryland is a strong team that should garner a top-3 seed in the Big Ten (Tournament) and a middle seed in the NCAA Tournament. If certain things come together and their young players continue developing, they have a chance to go far."
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