EAST LANSING, Mich. – All season long, head coach Damon Rensing has emphasized unity and the toughness of his 27 players, and the Spartans showed that on Sunday against the University of Louisville.
On a cold day with high winds, and a field that players could hardly get a good footing on, the Spartans found themselves locked in a tight game with the Cardinals.
“It was a tough one…both teams had to play in it and I think both teams played well in it,” sophomore goalie Zach Bennett said. “It obviously made it pretty hard, but other than that I think it was just an NCAA game. Two top 20 teams in my opinion going at it and it is just ended the way we wanted.”
From the opening kick-off, the Spartans came out aggressive by pressing with their forwards, which gave them multiple scoring opportunities in the first half, but it also opened up counter attacks for the Cardinals and forced them to knock the ball around.
“Overall, I thought defensively we did a good job. I thought they really didn’t have a ton of good looks and I felt like we had a lot of possession,” Louisville head coach Ken Lolla said. “Those things we do well. We limit chances and keep the ball and I thought we did both of those pretty well.”
The ball movement by the Cardinals kept the Spartan defense on their toes and late in the first half, the defense got caught out of place, but redshirt junior Ryan Keener tracked back to the Spartans’ 18-yard-box after making a play at the center circle.
In the process of making the play, Kenner re-injured his hamstring, but finished out the first half and was taken off one minute into the second half.
The injury forced Rensing to move junior midfielder, Fatai Alashe, from midfield to center back.
“Fatai is a special player, not just athletically, but technically. He’s got good composure,” Rensing said. “One of the bad things about having all these injuries this year is you never put out your best team, but one of the good things is Fatai has played against Creighton, Marquette, some NCAA tournament teams, and he was very comfortable back there.”
Both defense’s were challenged in the second half as the Cardinals and the Spartans had plenty of goal scoring opportunities.
The Spartans had the best scoring opportunity in the second half during the 72nd minute, when senior Wesley Curtis got inside the Cardinals’ 18-yard-box and found junior Kyle Rutz at the top of the six-yard-box.
Rutz was able to get a touch on it, but did not hit it hard enough as the Cardinal keeper, Ball Joachim made a great diving save to his left to keep the game scoreless.
“I think we created some good chances in the first and second half,” redshirt junior Tim Kreutz said. “We didn’t let down after that and…we just kept pushing forward after that for the goal.”
For the seventh time this season, the Spartans were in a familiar place, overtime.
In the first overtime period, both teams had a few scoring chances, but could not capitalize, and both teams were still scoreless after the first five minute period.
A minute into the second overtime, the Spartans were awarded a free kick at the top of their half of the field.
Senior Kevin Cope stepped up to take the free kick and delivered the ball into the top half of the Cardinals’ 18-yard-box.
Junior Adam Montague headed the ball towards the Cardinal net and found a wide-open Kreutz, who jumped up and headed it over Joachim and into the Cardinal goal.
“We knew we were good on set pieces and I just had a good feeling on that one,” Kreutz said. “Thelen puts a good ball in and I don’t know, Rutzy and Adam (Montague) both went up for it and when it went over my head, I kind of just stood there and waited for it to come back, and of course it came back to me and I don’t know if I could be more open and I just directed it towards goal and luckily it went in.”
The Spartans will next play Georgetown University (14-4-2) who defeated Old Dominion University 3-0 on Sunday.
“They are very good. They are the national runners up and they probably have two of the best forward combination in the country (with) Brandon Allen and Steve Neumann. Very well coached. Brian Wiese does a great job. Very technical team. I think it will be a great match and this is what you want for this time of year.”
The Spartans will play at Georgetown University on Sunday, December 1 at 1 p.m in Washington D.C.
Brooks Laimbeer is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: Jonathan Yales