EAST LANSING, Mich — The No. 22-ranked Michigan State men’s soccer team downed the University of Illinois at Chicago 2-0 in snowy and slick conditions at DeMartin Stadium. Two early goals would prove to be the difference for MSU, who hosted their third straight NCAA tournament home game Thursday night.
“We had a strong emphasis on starting strong, putting them under pressure, and having the belief that the ball would go in the back of the net, which it did early,” MSU forward Ryan Sierakowski said following the game. “That set the tone for the rest of the game.”
The weather conditions showed themselves early, slowing down the game and causing many players to slip during the action. It didn’t take long for the Spartans to break the ice in postseason play, as Ryan Sierakowski netted the first goal of the game on a nifty play in the box at 5:58. Not long afterward MSU struck again with a tap-in goal from Barone at 18:48, extending the lead to 2-0.
UIC would generate six shots and five corner kicks in the first half. Despite these chances, the Flames couldn’t convert to trail 2-0 at halftime. Michigan State managed three shots in the half, while goalkeeper Jimmy Hague held down the fort and came up with two saves.
“It was huge (to get the early goal), I think we’ve only scored four or five goals in the first half all year,” MSU head coach Damon Rensing proclaimed. “To get two in the first half was huge. I liked that after we scored the first goal we didn’t stop, we kept playing.”
The two teams would settle in at the start of the second half, with the Spartans playing defensively to protect their two-goal lead. Hague came up with good saves when needed, while his defense minimized UIC opportunities. With no scoring in the second half, MSU took home the first round matchup 2-0.
UIC outshot the Spartans 11 to 7, and held the advantage in corner kicks, 6 to 2. Michigan State’s first goal from Sierakowski was assisted by Hunter Barone and DeJuan Jones, their second goal from Barone was assisted again by Jones. Hague was steady in net all night, recording four saves.
Following the game Rensing gave credit to the groundscrew, who stayed busy throughout the game clearing the lines. He also gave a special shoutout to his seniors, who stepped up big en route to victory.
“I challenged seniors to show up, I think in NCAA tournament events you need your seniors,” Rensing said. “You need everyone to play well, but you need your seniors to play like seniors.”
MSU improves to 11-4-4 on the season with the tournament victory, they will next travel to face Louisville, the No. 4 overall seed in the tournament.
“I know they’re good, you win the ACC tournament and you’re good,” Rensing said. “They’ve got a good team, they’re on a run, they don’t give up a lot of goals. It will be difficult.”
“It’ll be a very difficult match, but this is why you come to Michigan State, to play in these kinds of games.”