Sunday at 2 p.m, the Michigan State men’s soccer team will attempt to replicate the success of their acquaintances playing American football. The Spartans and Michigan Wolverines will be battling again for the Big Bear Trophy, which currently resides in East Lansing.
In years past, Michigan State has had immense success at home, winning the last five contests at DeMartin Stadium against their in-state rivals. Michigan comes in at 5-7-3 (2-2-2 in the Big Ten) while MSU boasts a 9-3-4 (3-1-2) record that has kept them in the top 25. Given the teams’ records this season, one would expect the streak to continue.
However, rivalry games are never that simple. James Murphy, the English forward for Michigan, will be suspended due to yellow cards, and is a big loss for the Wolverines. Michigan is still led in attack by Colin McAtee, who has contributed 16 points courtesy of seven goals and two assists. His biggest moment this year came when he completed a hat-trick to unseat Notre Dame, who MSU drew with 1-1 on Wednesday, with a 3-2 shocker.
Redshirt senior defender Ryan Keener offered his thoughts on stopping McAtee, saying, “He scores a lot of goals. We play a lot of good players. Same as always: good fundamentals, solid team defense, and just make it tough on him. If he makes a play, he makes a play. But we’re not going to make it easy.”
Coach Damon Rensing added onto Keener’s thoughts.
“Well, he’s really dangerous on corner kicks. He’s got good pace. He’s just a good all-around player,” Rensing said. “So we’ll just have to be aware of him just like we are of a lot of good players in the league. He’s been playing really well, so we’ll just have to keep an eye on him.”
Michigan’s defense has shifted around a bit this season, lacking the consistent goalkeeping MSU has had the luxury of having with Zach Bennett behind the back four. They have shifted between Adam Grinwis and Evan Louro between the posts.
Nick Lewin, Lars Eckenrode and Rylee Woods are three of the more consistent members of the back line, and Woods has even gotten forward in attack.
MSU senior striker Adam Montague, for one, is ready for the matchup.
“[Scoring] against Michigan would be pretty exciting. You know, I’ve only scored once against them and that was in postseason play,” Montague said. “So I think getting a goal against them in regular season play, especially with it being my last game at DeMartin, would be pretty special.”
He went on to add that the team does not feel any added pressure from the football team’s 35-11 win against the visiting Wolverines, but did say the soccer team always likes to try to match them.
“It’s always on the back of our minds, trying to emulate what they’ve done on the football field. But I feel like, regardless of the outcome of last week’s game, this one would have been special to everybody. We all would have been ready to go,” Montague said.
Montague will likely lead the Spartans in attack and look to increase his scoring total for the year and against Michigan, both slightly worse than what he’s grown to expect with his usual immense production of goals.
Another redshirt senior, Tim Kreutz, will hope to aid Montague in his mission. Kreutz will be hoping to go out with a bang, especially considering his game-tying score against Notre Dame and his success against Michigan in years past.
Last year, Kreutz did not score in the 2-0 win against Michigan, but was an omnipresent threat, unleashing four shots and putting two on target.
When asked how he would replicate last year’s success, Kreutz responded, “Honestly, it’s just study and practice every day. Talking to Damon, just figuring what formation to put out there, trying to get the reps in practice, and looking at their center backs. I think it’s almost the same lineup they had last year back there, so knowing that I’ve had a little bit of success, I’m just thinking about what I did, thinking about those same runs I made. So I’m just trying to get on the ball as much as I can and make those runs for Jay [Chapman] and the guys in midfield and play off them as well as I can.”
Kreutz said the team would have “a lot of confidence” heading into the game, due to the impressive performance the Spartans assembled against Notre Dame, the defending champs and usually successful opponent when it comes to head-to-head matchups.
MSU doubtlessly will rotate through players on the flank. However, as always,
Fatai Alashe will take the position of center defensive mid, standing ahead of center backs Keener and Zach Carroll. Zach Bennett, the Big Ten’s best goalie statistically, will put on the gloves again for State.
Most experts predict that State should win the game. They boast a far superior record and have beaten Michigan five times running when the game has been held at DeMartin. However, rivalry games always mean that there is potential for a big stir, and Michigan proved they have that potential by beating Notre Dame.
This game not only has pride at stake, but an important result that could decide each team’s Big Ten seeding. Expect all of the Spartans to go all in for senior day and a rivalry game, and expect an enticing contest.
Isaac Constans is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: Hannah McEnroe/Impact Sports