Spartans’ failure to capitalize leads to scoreless draw

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By: Luke Sloan

EAST LANSING, Mich. — An evenly-matched battle between the Michigan State and Minnesota women’s soccer teams ended in a scoreless draw under wet and sloppy field conditions at DeMartin Stadium Thursday night. MSU played stellar defense, but couldn’t capitalize on scoring opportunities throughout the night.

“I thought we created plenty of chances, we had a defensive game plan and a counterattacking mentality,” MSU head coach Tom Saxton stated following the contest. “We created plenty of chances, won ten corners. I was disappointed we didn’t stick the ball across the line, otherwise I was very pleased with the performance. Especially bouncing back after a not-so-good performance against Indiana, we needed to show we could defend our home turf. We came out and played a strong game overall, but you have to score to win.”

The two teams played at an even level in regulation, exchanging the occasional scoring opportunity and stymying each other in the midfield. Urgency increased in the final minutes, but overtime seemed imminent. This was until the last seconds when MSU’s Alexandra Thomas earned a golden opportunity on a breakaway. She was in all alone but a Minnesota defender caught her and made a physical move to deny the chance. Sudden-death overtime was next.

“I thought it was a foul,” Saxton said of the final play. “But it didn’t appear in the penalty area so we would have gotten a free kick from there. It happens, it’s just part of the game. The good thing is we kept our heads up and played strong in overtime.”

Similar to regulation, the first overtime period was deadlocked until the final moments. Minnesota gradually applied more pressure and with seconds remaining the Gophers’ Patricia Ward missed a prime scoring chance wide left. More overtime was in the cards.

This time it was MSU’s turn to go on the attack and generate chances. The Spartans had three corner kicks in the second overtime but failed to put the ball across the line. With many chances in the rearview mirror, the clock hit zero and the contest ended in a draw.

“It’s just a matter of momentum in college soccer, the game ebbs and flows,” said Saxton. “For the most part, it was a pretty even game played in the midfield. We had a couple defensive breakdowns to our game plan, Reilley (Ott) came up big for us. But we also had some great opportunities in both the first and second half, especially on the far post that we didn’t get to. There were a couple chances in overtime where we kept the momentum, it would have been nice to stick one of those corners across the line.”

Minnesota outshot the Spartans 11-8 in the end, but the advantage in corner kicks went to the home team, 10-6. Hannah Jones led MSU with three shots, while April Bockin paced the Gophers with four. MSU captain Reilley Ott made four impressive saves to boost her team, Maddie Nielsen countered with two for Minnesota.

The contest moves MSU to 5-2-3 overall and 0-1-2 in Big Ten play, Minnesota now sits at 5-4-1 overall and 1-1-1 in conference. Despite no victory, Sexton was impressed with his team’s overall effort and ability to bounce back after a tough loss at Indiana last Sunday.

“We needed to get back home and get settled, this was a good sign. We took advantage of sleeping in our own beds, this was night and day compared to our performance against Indiana as a team. I’m pleased we’re taking steps forward.”

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