Seven months have passed since the Michigan State men’s soccer team played their last soccer game against defending national champs, Notre Dame, in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
The Spartans are looking to get back to the Elite Eight this season, but first they will have to make it through the new Big Ten and a few tough non-conference opponents early in the season.
The 2014 schedule features 10 non-conference games against familiar opponents and the addition of the University of Maryland and Rutgers University to the Big Ten.
* * *University of Washington Huskies Aug. 21 7 p.m. Fort Wayne, Ind.
To start the season off, the Spartans will open up with an exhibition game against the Huskies at the Shindigz National Soccer Festival in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The Huskies (17-2-4) won the Pac-12 tournament and made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament last season. They also finished fourth in the nation in the final NCAA rankings in 2013.
The Huskies return their top two leading goal scorers from last season: sophomore midfielder Cristian Roldan (seven goals) and senior forward Darwin Jones (seven goals). Roldan was also named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year last season.
In 2014, the Huskies will play two tough exhibition games to start the season, one against Indiana and the other against the Spartans. From their, they will play three tough non-conference games against opponents that made the NCAA tournament in 2013: Seattle University, the University of Connecticut and the University of Pennsylvania. The Huskies will then have to tough it out through the difficult Pac-12 season in which every team plays each other twice.
Stevens Institute of Technology Ducks Aug. 24 12 p.m. DeMartin Stadium
If you are wondering why the Spartans have a Division-III men’s soccer team on their exhibition schedule, it’s not just because Michigan State head coach, Damon Rensing, has a brother that is the head coach of the Stevens Institute men’s soccer program.
The Ducks have gone 68-10-5 in the last four years and finished 16th in the nation in Division-III men’s soccer. Last season the Ducks made it to the second round of the Division-III NCAA Tournament.
Leading goal scorer, junior forward Carson Pryor (14 goals), returns for the Ducks.
Southern Methodist University Mustangs Aug. 29 5 p.m. DeMartin Stadium
To begin the regular season at home, the Spartans will face the Mustangs (3-12-2) who are coming off one of their worst seasons in four years. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, SMU had won 10 games or more, and made the NCAA Tournament all three seasons.
The Mustangs return one of their top leading goal scorers from the 2013 season, junior midfielder Andrew Morales, who had four goals.
The toughest teams that the Mustangs will have to play in 2014 are Michigan State, the University of Michigan, Duke University and the University of Connecticut.
Florida International University Panthers Aug. 31 1 p.m. DeMartin Stadium
In the last four years, the Panthers have gone 26-35-7 in a less than stellar Conference USA that does however feature New Mexico University, who made it to the Final Four of the 2013 NCAA Tournament and Old Dominion University, who made it to the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.University Illinois-Chicago Flames Sept. 5 8 p.m. Chicago, Ill.
The first away game of the regular season for the Spartans will be against the Flames, who went 16-4-0 last season, finished the 2013 season ranked 37th in the NCAA and just missed the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
The Flames will be without their leading goal scorer from last season, forward Slobodan Aleksov, who scored 10 goals in 2013.
The second leading goal scorers from the 2013 season return for the Flames, junior forward Jorge Alvarez, senior forward Jesus Torres and junior midfielder Kyle Lindberg. Each had four goals for the Flames last season.
Valparaiso University Crusaders Sept. 11 5 p.m. DeMartin Stadium
The Crusaders failed to make the NCAA Tournament in 2013 and finished 128th in the final NCAA rankings in 2013. The team has gone a combined 29-31-17 the past four seasons.
Last season, the Crusaders came into East Lansing and beat the Spartans 2-1.
One of the top two goal scorers returns for the Crusaders. Senior midfielder Nick Suker, who scored four goals last season, returns for his final season with the Crusaders.
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All records and stats came from university athletic websites and ncaa.com.
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Brooks Laimbeer is the host of Corner Kick for Impact Sports.
Photos: Jonathan Yales/Impact Sports