(Bumped - Football wasn't the only team that did well this weekend. - Pete)
So, having been cultivating my serious soccer fandom since around the 2009 Confederations Cup, I decided to wrangle up a couple buds, and went out to watch my first Michigan State soccer game on Friday night. Your 19th ranked MSU squad was taking on the unranked Marquette Golden Eagles in what was billed as the Big Ten/Big East Challenge. Being naturally wary of Big Ten/_______ Challenges, but having heard good things about about this year's team, I picked up a program and am going to try my best Zonal Marking impersonation. Analysis of the 1-0 Michigan State victory after the jump.
First off, some notes on the venue, the DeMartin Soccer Complex. It's a pretty nice facility, certainly much nicer than the place my high school team played in or any field I tore up back in my under 10's youth soccer days. The stands were surprisingly full, but the overall atmosphere is a little underwhelming, to be honest. The crowd got excited at scoring opportunities and the soccer IQ seemed to be pretty high, but during the run of play, well, let's just say it was no Camp Nou. Also, and as a college kid this was a big deal to me, entrance was totally free.
A couple of rule quirks to the college game jumped out at me. First, the clock ticks down, not up, and the ref can stop the clock. As a result there's no stoppage time. Some soccer purists might get pissed but personally, I didn't mind. The other big change was that substitutions were seemingly unlimited and players could be taken out of the game and reinserted later. I didn't like this as much, but maybe that's just because I think it puts our player development behind other countries.
So onto the game. Let's start with formations. MSU played the majority of game in a 4-2-3-1 formation (4 defenders, 2 defensive midfielders, 3 attacking midfielders, and a single striker up-top). MSU Left back Wesley Curtis had a tendency to get forward significantly more than the rest of the back-line when we had the ball, shifting our formation into more of a 3-3-3-1. In comparison Marquette was seemingly rocking a standard 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 like you might see out of the US national team.
I've always thought the soccer system of going through and awarding each player a rating of 1-10 was kind of dumb, so instead I'm going to go in-depth on a few players that stood out to my novice eyes.
ATTACKING MIDFIELDER Jeff Ricondo: It seemed like in the first half nearly every Spartan attack was running through this guy out on the right wing. He seemed like he was taking good positioning when he was off the ball and was consistently looking to push the attack and deliver service into the box. His offensive production tallied off in the second half as he seemed to get subbed in and out a couple times and had trouble finding rhythm. Despite that, he did a great job at getting back on D and several times stopped Marquette breakaways.
LEFT BACK, Wesley Curtis: To be blunt, I enjoyed watching this kid a lot. Little guy (5''6) but seemingly had a faster gear than any of the other players on the field. He was prowling up and down the left side of the field the whole game, making pacey, harassing attacks on the Eagles' midfielders and right back that kept them occupied from being able to join up in the attack. In defense, he was almost always able to get back into position and provide cover. Maybe I'm just deprived of seeing good left back play after the regularly scheduled Bornstein-acolypses I see from the USMNT, but Curtis was very solid.
CENTER BACKS Kevin Cope and Colin Givens: These two handily dealt with nearly every problem situation that entered their zone. Cleared the ball out of some pretty scary spots and communicated with each other well. Really put the clamps on the Marquette strike force and didn't suffer any serious giveaways or breakdowns.
GOALKEEPER Avery Steinlage: Had little to do (though the box score credits him with seven saves), but looked calm and steady on what shots he did have to clean up. Picked up a dangerous ball out of a scrum near the goal line. Secured every ball shot at him, I can't remember him fumbling or dropping a ball. Has a pretty strong leg on goal kicks/dead balls but isn't terrible accurate with them. Appeared to me to live up to his hype of being on the Hermann Trophy Pre-Season Watch List (apparently the College Soccer equivalent of the Heisman).
ATTACKING MIDFIELDER Cyrus Saydee: Man of the Match, for sure. Was constantly making dangerous runs into the box and off his position on the left wing. Seemed to relish running at defenders and taking them 1-on-1, showed great work on the ball. Skinned his defender and them bulged the back of the net in a sort of poor man's version of this David Villa beauty on the only goal of the game. Also provided good defensive support for Wesley Curtis and pressed Marquette's defensive line when they had the ball. I had to resist the urge to shout out “Saydee! SAY G!” after his goal.
A quick note on the opposition. Marquette MIDFIELDER Calum Mallace: Marquette looked a pretty average squad, but one player stood out to me. He was 6''2, a couple inches bigger than anyone else around him in the middle of the field and was all over the place. The guy played box to box and was almost always leading the attack and making the smart pass, or firing in the dangerous free kick. Was good at finding space in our midfield and exploiting it. Closed down well on our players. Struck me as maybe the best player on either squad, just had very little around him.
The match wasn't quite what I expected. After scoring 12 and giving up 7 in only 4 games, I expected a high scoring affair but got a low scoring (though exciting and up and down) result. Similarly I expected more out of striker Rubin Bega (3 goals in the first four games, only one real shot on target in this one, which he seemingly waited a bit too long to fire off following a Marquette mistake in the defense) and attacking midfielder Spencer Thompson (2 goals and 4 assists in the first 4, and not a whole lot of note in this one. I wanted to see better production out of the guy who I went into the game assuming pulled the strings of the Spartan attack). But in the end, a 1-0 win is still a win.
I still had a great time despite the lack of scoring though. If you like watching soccer and haven't been, I'd definitely recommend getting out there. The level of play wasn't that far off what I've seen in the MLS so far and you can't argue with the price point. So hey, go support your Spartans! Go Green! Go White!