With Penn State (9-5-3, 3-1-2 Big Ten) having its final game of the regular season canceled and the team earning a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, the men's soccer team had to shake off rust in its first game in 12 days.
The team could not withstand Michigan State’s (11-9-1, 3-3-0 Big Ten) fast start to the second half, losing to the Spartans, 3-1, Friday afternoon in Evanston, Ill., eliminating them from the Big Ten tournament.
Heading into the tournament, coach Bob Warming stressed preparation from his team, which was the tournament’s top seed, to get its legs going early.
“The most important thing is to prepare yourself to where your guys are feeling sharp and good about the way they play,” Warming said. “Worry about yourself and not the opponent.”
With the Lions defeating Michigan State, 2-1, on Oct. 14, defender John Gallagher said the team was prepared for the Spartans, as the Lions knew their tendencies.
The rust from the break due to Hurricane Sandy and a first round bye showed in the first half. The Nittany Lions struggled from the start, not registering a shot until the 24th minute. The team committed five fouls in a 10-minute span to start the game and were outshot 12-7 by the Spartans.
“We were game ready in terms of being sharp on the ball and connecting a lot of passes,” defender Brian Forgue said. “Rest-wise, it was good for us, but college soccer is all about momentum.”
The Lions slowly got themselves into the game as midfielder Minh Vu tested Spartans goalie Zach Bennett in the 36th minute. The resulting corner came to nothing, and nine minutes of back-and-forth play after that led to the teams going into halftime scoreless.
The team focused on keeping the ball on the ground with short, quick passes to make the Spartans chase the ball.
Once the second half hit, it was all Spartans. Michigan State started the half strong, scoring the first goal in the 46th minute off a deflection off the box that was tapped into the net by midfielder Cody Henderson.
Forgue said the momentum changed in the second half due to the Spartans’ physicality.
“We definitely had the advantage over them when we kept the ball on the ground,” Forgue said. “They're a good physical team, and when we put the ball in the air, it hurt us a little bit because they were dominant in that respect.”
Just eight minutes after the first goal, the Spartans scored again. Midfielder Fatai Alashe found attacker Adam Montague unmarked in the box, and the sophomore put the ball in net to put the Spartans out of reach.
Vu, playing his first game since Oct.10 due to a concussion, was able to mark his return to the lineup with a tidy shot from seven yards out in the 88th minute to give the Lions a consolation goal.
The Lions will wait to see if they receive an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, which starts Nov. 15.
“Right now, it's kind of out of our hands,” Forgue said about the team's prospect of an at-large bid. “We kind of just have to let the fates decide.”