Defense the Biggest Question for MSU Soccer

Just like that the No. 10 Spartans’ 10-day preseason is over and they begin their regular season journey on Friday at home against Southern Methodist University.

Over these past ten days, Michigan State has had two exhibition games that have tested the new look team and the Spartans have responded well.

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Exhibition Recaps

On August 21, the Spartans met the No. 6 University of Washington Huskies in Fort Wayne, Ind. in the Shindigz National Soccer Festival.

Washington had plenty of chances to put the ball in the back of the net against Michigan State, but they only found the back of the net once in the 30th minute off a cross from midfielder Andy Thoma who found forward Darwin Jones in the middle of the 18-yard box who controlled the cross and slotted it into the bottom left corner of the goal.

“It was probably a result of being tired,” head coach Damon Rensing said. “I thought we turned the ball over too much in the first half and in turning it over we got tired and got a little bit soft.”

Michigan State forward, Adam Montague, had a few good scoring opportunities after the Spartans gave up the goal, but could not put the ball in the back of the net.

The lone Washington goal in the first half turned out to be the game winner and the Spartans fell to the Huskies, 1-0.

After a rainy bus ride back home, the Spartans got back on the practice field on August 24. They played the Stevens Institute of Technology in their second and final exhibition game of the preseason.

The Spartans came out strong and redshirt senior forward, Tim Kreutz, put Michigan State on the board in the ninth minute off a Jason Stacy corner kick that found defender Ryan Keener in the box who then found Kreutz for the goal.

The Spartans added another goal in the first half off an error by goalkeeper, Mike Renna, who was slow to clear the ball and Montague took the ball away from him and scored.

Michigan State added two more goals in the second half and went on to win 4-0.

“In certain ways I don’t know if it was a 4-0 game, but I think we took advantage of a couple mistakes and that’s a sign of a good team and you punish teams for mistakes,” Rensing said. “We are just continuing to evaluate. We have had a good ten 10 days of training here. It was a good end and we will continue to give evaluations.”

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From watching the Spartans’ two exhibition games, they definitely have some spots to fill in the starting 11, but having depth is never a bad thing.

The biggest question for me coming into the season was who was going to fill Kevin Cope’s center back role and who would take the place of left back, a position that Ryan Thelen held down last season.

University of Virginia transfer defender Zach Carroll looks to be the one who will step in at center back and freshman Brad Centala looks to be the one who will get to start at left back for the Spartans.

Carroll played in 24 games for the Cavaliers, including the Final Four game last season in the NCAA Tournament. There is no doubt that he has the playing experience, the question is how quickly can he adjust to the Michigan State system and mesh with his teammates.

Starting a freshman in the defensive line is not new to the Spartans as Andrew Herr filled the right back role last season as a redshirt freshman.

The starting defensive line will need to grow and learn how to work together quickly, but with the leadership of Keener on the back line, I cannot see why the Spartans cannot have similar results to last years starting back line.

Depth in the midfield is always nice to have, especially when freshmen can step in and play right away. The Spartans have that with freshman midfielder Ken Krolicki, who has shown composure on the ball and good vision.

Senior, Fatai Alashe, and junior, Jay Chapman, will hold down the midfield as two good veterans who have seen a lot of playing time in their college soccer careers. Between the two of them, they have played in 104 games.

A midfielder to watch out for this year is Stacy, who did not score in the two exhibition games, but created a lot of scoring chances for other players and himself. He moves well without the ball and gives the Spartans speed on the left side, especially in wide positions.

The combination of Kreutz and Montague could be the best returning offensive duo in the Big Ten. They work well off each other with Montague being able to hold the ball up top, which helps create space for outside players, and Kreutz’s speed causes havoc for defenders and his good vision helps create scoring opportunities for other teammates.

Having unselfish forwards is never a bad thing because it keeps the defenders on their toes at all times.

It is too early to say how the team will do record wise, but it should be a fun season that will be full of goals and close games.

Brooks Laimbeer is the host of Corner Kick for Impact Sports.

Photo: Jonathan Yales/Impact Sports