[Bumped. This may be the first MSU soccer formation graphic in the history of entire internet. -KJ]
In their first big ten fixture of the year, MSU (7-1-0) faced off against Northwestern (3-4-0) within the friendly confines of East Lansing. The 15th ranked Spartans dominated nearly all facets of the game on their way to a 2-0 victory. Further analysis (now with pictures! And video!) following the jump
First off a nice little diagram that lays out the starting lineups, their typical position on the field in a 'neutral' situation, and their general movement when their team was in possession of the ball.
As you can see, like in the Marquette game, it was MSU in a 4-2-3-1 against Northwestern's 4-2-2-2.
More analysis after the jump
Spartan width; superior movement off the ball cause problems for Wildcats
As the diagram shows, with the exception of Schickel who generally maintained his position, Northwestern had a tendency to pinch their attackers(particularly Lepe Seetane on the left wing) in toward the center of the field. This meant there were many occasions where MSU would find the gaps on the edges of the field and exploit them. Spartan right back Jake Fullerton had a very nice game taking advantage of Seetane's absence in front of him, and Ricondo, playing a kind of free role in the center of the attacking third, roamed dangerously into open spaces (especially those made from Northwestern's Jack Hillgard getting caught too far forward).
In a different manner, striker Domenic Barone played as a classic holdup man in the up top, doing an excellent job of A. moving horizontally and backwards across the field to drag the Wildcat's defensive line out of shape and cause confusion and B. keeping possession of the ball and waiting for his attacking midfielders to make dangerous runs at goal before passing the ball to them.
Several times in the game, the trident of players behind Barone (or later, Rubin Bega when he moved up top) were able to maneuver themselves into dangerous positions but a series of saves by the Northwestern keeper kept them off the board.
Goalie mishap leads to 'free' goal.
With 21 minutes to go in the first half, MSU Defensive Midfielder Spencer Thompson delivered the first score of the match. Taking the corner kick from the left side of the field, Thompson fired the kick across the front of the goal to the near post. With no white jerseys in sight, the goalie jumped tried to deflect it over the top bar, but embarrassingly watched the ball burst through his hands and into the top left corner of his net instead. The scorer credited Thompson with the goal, but it seemed like a pretty clear own goal on the Northwestern goalkeeper to me.
This mishap by Wildcat goalie Drew Kotler was surprising to me, as he made several athletic saves on a handful of other Michigan State shots on goal.
MSU the better team in possession, defense
Despite looking dangerous in the midway of the game, NU had trouble holding onto the soccer ball. Spartan attacking midfielder Jeff Ricondo especially did an excellent job of getting back on defense, acting as a third defensive midfielder in the center of the field at times, and dispossessing Northwestern's attackers of the ball. In fact, this lead to the Spartan's second goal of the game as substitute right winger Tim Kreutz and Jeff Ricondo combined to dispossess the Northwestern left back of the ball and started a 2-on-2 situation deep in the Wildcat half of the field. Kreutz played a pretty through ball into the box as Ricondo raced past the last defender and calmly slotted the ball home into the bottom left corner of the goal to make it 2-0.
As the game wore on, Northwestern's strikers (in particular Oliver Kupe), frustrated at their midfielders inability to get service to them in the second half, started dropping further and further back away from the MSU goal in an attempt to see more of the ball. As you would expect, this took the teeth right out of the Wildcat offense. With a 2 goal lead, MSU could feel free to drop its players back into a more defensive look, and over the final 10-15 minutes of the game you could see NU get visibly angry at the way MSU defenders crowded them every time they received the ball. This anger lead to some rash challenges, and Northwestern finished the game with three yellow cards, all for reckless slide tackles to Spartan heels.
Other good assaults, but no more goals
Northwestern left back Peter O'Neil was generally given free reign to run up his side of the field when he felt like it. One such endeavor, right after the first MSU goal, lead to one of Northwestern's better chances of the first half. O'Neil received the ball in spartan territory, put a quick move around his man, and raced for the Spartan goal line. Just as he reached the edge of the field, he ripped in a cross along the ground that scooted dangerously through the MSU box before it was scooped up by goalie Avery Steinlage. Had one of the Northwestern players nearby been able to get on the end of it, it could have spelled trouble for MSU.
Near the end of the first half, Ricondo showed why he can be dangerous in his role behind the striker, as he dribbled around several Northwestern defenders, and played a nice give and go with Michigan State Attacking mid Cyrus Saydee. Upon recieving the ball back from Saydee Ricondo reared back and slammed a kick from just outside the 18 yard box towards the net. Luckily for Northwestern, the goalie was in the right spot to parry the ball out for a goal kick.
Early in the second half, the Northwestern midfield were able to make a few probing runs into the Spartan penalty box. Most of these efforts ended with the Wildcats losing the ball before they could get a proper shot off, but several times the ball found it's way to Northwestern striker Oliver Kupe in a post up position in front of goal. Usually a spartan defender was able to get a deflection on the ensuing shot, but one time Kupe found himself free to blast a close range shot on target. Through luck or good positioning, Steinlage found himself in front of the shot and was able to knock it down and cover it.
Wildcat winger Lepe Seetane (who is shown as Lepe on the diagram... Doh!), playing off the shoulder of one of his team's strikers, was able to dribble the ball into dangerous situations, but never did anything particularly impressive to turn those oppurtunities into shots on goal. On a side note, he is, I think the smallest Men's Division 1 athlete I've ever seen, at a towering 5''2 (seriously, 5 foot 2 inches.).
Later in the second half MSU was able to get out on the counter attack and even the defensive center backs got into fun a little bit. In one memorable example,Spartan Kevin Cope found himself on a one-on-one situation with the keeper following a Northwestern defensive giveaway. Unfortunately his lack of finishing touch betrayed him and the GK made a solid stop to keep him from getting on the scoreboard.
Lastly, the Barone brothers (I assume they're brothers at least) Mark and Domenic almost were able to combine for a third goal as with 15 minutes left Domenic laid out a pretty pass into the penalty box that was just a bit too far forward for a surging Mark to latch onto. The gracious Wildcat goalie rushed out to cover the ball and that was that.
Substitutions have varying levels of effectiveness for both sides
By request, here were some substitutions I had jotted down and their general impact.
13 minutes left in the first half:
MSU- Brent Rosendall for Rubin Bega, Rosendall moves up to striker, Barone drops back to the attacking midfield spot behind him, Ricondo takes over Bega's spot on the right wing. These shake ups didn't produce any real standout offensive moments.
NU- Piero Bellizzi comes on for Lepe Seetane. See above note on effectiveness.
7 minutes in the first half
NU- Nick Gendron for Matt Eliason at striker. I don't remember Gendron doing a thing.
MSU- Nosa Iyoha for Josh Barens at defensive midfielder. Iyoha seemed equally effective at shutting down the NU attack as Barens when he was in.
22 minutes left in the second half
Mark Barone and Tim Kreutz come in for Cyrus Saydee and Rubin Bega respectively. Here's a swap that actually improves the team's play, as these two create several chances and an assist on the second goal in their time on the field.
Late in the second half Rubin Bega comes on and replaces Domenic Barone up top. Bega does a great job keeping the ball out of Northwestern's hands (feet?) and provides fresh energy to close the game out.
There were more (someone replaced Wesley Curtis real late, I think it was Josh Barens?), but frankly, I forgot to write them down, and at any rate they weren't all that important on the final tally. Michigan State was able to use subs in the second half to bolster their attack, but in contrast, the Northwestern switches did very little to help their chances throughout the game.
The stats tell the story
NU - MSU
0 - 2 goals
6 - 10 shots
4 - 6 shots on goal
2 - 4 corner kicks
3 - 0 yellow cards
10 - 11 fouls
Fun, physical game with a great result for our boys in green and white!
Some odds and ends
-televised by the big ten network means... TV time outs during the halves. That was a new soccer experience for me.
- No one entity kits out our team's cleats, so we have a rainbow of colors on our player's footwear. If you're you're the type that freaks out over the greens not matching in our football uniforms, you have my permission to go nuts.
-The raucous alumni atmosphere I was told to expect did not materialize. One MSU player's mother was especially feisty though, so that slightly made up for it.
-The official in charge today wasn't nearly as big of a douche as the ref from the Marquette game was. It was nice to see the ref NOT making himself the center of attention.
Enjoy (complete with terrible Big Ten Network d-team guys breaking it down).