FINAL: Spartans open season with 2-0 loss to Rutgers

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Hunter Morse/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Adam Bakr, Men's Soccer Beat Reporter

LIVONIA, Mich. — The Michigan State men’s soccer team kicked off its 2021 season with a 2-0 loss to Rutgers. While it was slated as a home game, the teams met in Livonia, MI to play at the St. Joe’s Sports Dome. 

The Spartans started on the front foot, but were not able to capitalize on the possession with any real efforts on goal. They had some opportunities in the form of set pieces but Rutgers was able to deal with all the resulting crosses. 

As soon as the Scarlet Knights got some momentum, they made it count, as they opened the scoring 15 minutes into the game. Jackson Temple played Ritchie Barry a through ball into the box, and Barry’s first-time effort found the top corner to beat Hunter Morse at his back post. 

The Scarlet Knights would have opportunities to extend the lead. Moussa Sbaly got in between Morse and Nick Stone on a long ball, and his looping header over Morse went just wide of the post. They would also end the half with three consecutive corners, one of which forced Morse into a save after a mixup in the box. 

The story of the first half was Rutgers’ ability to work through Michigan State’s press to keep possession building from the back. On the other side, the Spartans were forced into a lot of long balls when they were put in the same situations. Michigan State finished the half with just one shot to Rugers’ four. 

“We played anxious at times,” Michigan State head coach Damon Rensing said. “I was a little surprised at the types of goals we gave up. Rutgers has some good players and punished us on our mistakes.”

The second half started at a fast pace. MSU’s Olu Ogunwale went down in the box with a possible penalty claim, but the referee waved for play to continue. Not long after, Rutgers would score its second goal. Jackson Temple’s low shot from the edge of the box was saved by Morse, and Colin Beasley was left alone at the back post to tap it in before Morse could recover. 

The Spartans responded with a higher sense of urgency after conceding. They controlled a majority of the possession, but clear scoring chances were still tough to create. Farai Mutatu would be the closest Spartan to finding the back of the net. Midway through the second half, he got on the end of Louis Sala’s delivery into the box with an acrobatic scissor kick to force Oren Asher into a save. Later in the half, Mutatu set himself up with some great dribbling in from the left. His curler from the edge of the box would again be met by Asher. 

“We just have to move the ball quicker and make more runs,” MSU freshman attacker Vedad Kovac said. “We struggled with that today. We just have to speed that up and we should be fine going forward.” 

One of the bright spots of the game was the debut of Kovac. He caused issues for the Rutgers backline with his dribbling and drew some free kicks in dangerous positions. He also set himself up for a shot from a close angle with some close control in the box and forced Asher back into action. 

“It was a special moment to get out there for the first time,” Kovac said. “Unlucky to not get the result but individually I felt pretty good to get out there and be with the team.”

Follow Adam Bakr on Twitter at @AdamBakr14.