MSU set for Sweet Sixteen matchup at Georgetown

After knocking off Illinois-Chicago in the first round, a game that was reminiscent of the U.S. national team’s infamous “Snow Classico” against Costa Rica in 2012, the Spartans toppled No. 4 Louisville in the second round of the NCAA tournament. That win sends them to the nation’s capital to take on the Hoyas of Georgetown in the Sweet Sixteen.

Louisville, Kentucky was not an easy place for opponents to come and get a result this season. But Damon Rensing’s program is becoming known for its consistency, especially in the all-important month of November.

“Very excited to be playing in our fourth Sweet Sixteen in six years,” Rensing said. “Certainly proud about that and I think it speaks to the consistency of our program, but I think our guys have their eyes set on something more.”

This consistency is not something one may have expected after the way the Spartans ended their regular season. After starting the season 11 games unbeaten, MSU limped towards the finish line, concluding their season with draws against Northwestern and Michigan, coupled with a loss at Indiana. Not to mention they only produced one goal in those three games before losing 1-0 to Maryland in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.

Something had to change going into the tournament. To bring that stability to his team, Rensing turned to none other than true freshman Jack Beck.

“It seemed to be the right fit for everybody and seemed to fit the team. Jack has settled in and done a very nice job and that just makes us deeper everywhere else.”

Beck has started the last three games for the Spartans, providing a stable force in the midfield, balancing out the attacking prowess of Giuseppe Barone and the defensive skills of Michael Pimlott. Those three have become Rensing’s staples in the midfield, forming a trio that is difficult to get the ball around, and even more difficult to get the ball off of.

This newfound midfield trio has allowed the Spartans’ forwards more freedom up top, something Ryan Sierakowski has greatly benefited from. In the three games Beck started, Sierakowksi has a goal and an assist and was the one who set up Beck for his goal against the Cardinals.

“I think a little bit of luck plays in. I think I’ve hit the post four or five times this season,” Sierakwoski noted. “A lot of things came into play, but we’re getting back to scoring.”

While Louisville was quite possibly the hottest team in the country, Georgetown is a whole different challenge. On paper, Louisville didn’t look like the No. 4 team in the country, although they play in the ACC, the undisputed premier conference for college soccer.

Georgetown is a team who is extremely hard to crack and is able to score goals at a prolific rate. But Rensing is not backing down just because Georgetown may look better on paper.

“You kind of stick to what you do at this time of year. We’ll recognize what Georgetown does well, but I think at this point of the year you want to get Georgetown to change to how you play as opposed to us changing to Georgetown and I think that will be the game. Whoever can change the other team’s approach will probably be the most successful.”

On their way to winning the Big East, Georgetown’s star frontman Derek Dodson racked up nine goals, good for first on the team. The man known for setting up Dodson is midfielder Kyle Zajec who has seven assists to his name to go along with four goals.

A big reason for their success has been the Hoyas’ ability to keep opponents at bay. Goalkeeper Giannis Nikopolidis has given up just 12 goals all year and has a goals against average that is good for No. 17 in the country.

The Hoyas have given up just four goals in their last 11 games. They haven’t given up more than one goal in a game since late September. Coincidentally enough, the last team they gave up two goals to was, in fact, Louisville.

“Most likely against Georgetown it will be a 1-0 or 2-1 game,” said Rensing. “I just hope we’ve got the one or the two, whichever is one more.”

The Spartans will travel to Washington D.C. Friday and will have two practices at Georgetown before suiting up on Sunday. With a win, Rensing’s program would advance to the Elite Eight for the fourth time in six years. First touch is scheduled for 1 p.m.