Coming off of a NCAA College Cup appearance in the 2018 season, the first for Michigan State since 1968, expectations were high for the Spartans in 2019. MSU finished 14-5-4 overall, and 4-2-2 in the Big Ten in 2018 with a final United Soccer Coaches poll ranking of No. 4, just behind fellow Big Ten teams Maryland (No. 1) and Indiana (No. 3). With a host of talent from the cup team returning, MSU was voted No. 7 in the preseason poll.
Overall MSU was one of four schools from the Big Ten to make the preseason poll with defending national champion Maryland at No. 1, rival Michigan at No. 2, and Wisconsin at No. 24. During the season MSU would also face preseason No. 3 Akron and preseason No. 9 Notre Dame.
In addition, MSU was picked No. 4 in the Big Ten Men’s Soccer Preseason Coaches Poll. Ahead of them were No. 1 Indiana, No. 2 Maryland, and No. 3 Michigan. After the Spartans were Wiscsonsin, Penn State, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Rutgers respectively. Preseason honors list picks included Giuseppe Barone, Patrick Nielsen, and Michael Pimlott.
Nationally, reigning Big Ten Midfielder of the Year and first-team All-American from last season Giuseppe Barone, and also redshirt-junior defender Patrick Nielsen were both named Hermann Trophy Watch List honorees. The two Spartans were half of the Big Ten’s preseason picks to the watch list, and the first MSU players named to the watch list since Ryan Sierakowski in 2017. Other Spartans included 2010 goalkeeper Avery Steinlage, and 2014 midfielder Jay Chapman who went on to be named a semifinalist, the first Spartan to ever achieve that feat.
Despite all of the hype, the Spartans season ended in disappointing fashion as they limped to a 3-12-3 overall record, and a 3-4-1 record in conference play. In the non-conference the Spartans lost all four road games and managed just two ties at home without a single victory at DeMartin Soccer Complex.
The Spartans started off the season with two exhibition games on the road, and a home game that ended up cancelled due to lightning. Opening exhibition play was a road game on August 18 against the University of Illinois-Chicago. The Spartans downed the Flames in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season 2-0, and that was the third straight NCAA tournament appearance by UIC. However, the Spartans fought this one out to a 0-0 tie. UIC managed the first three shots of the game, and out-shot MSU 10-2 in the first half. Hunter Morse, the redshirt-sophomore goalkeeper, made five saves in the first-half. Redshirt-junior Isiah Handspike played 31 minutes in the second half while notching two saves. Redshirt-sophomore midfielder Alex Shterenberg and freshman midfielder Conner George led MSU with two shots apiece.
Who has the better name for their sport and position?
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Justin Abdelkader, Hockey, Left-Wing
Isiah Handspike, Soccer, Goalie
The Spartans were next at home against the Butler Bulldogs on August 20. However, with the score tied 0-0 around thirty minutes into game play, lightning was seen in the area and the game entered a weather delay before eventually being called.
Closing out exhibition play, the Spartans hit the road to Cincinnati to take on Xavier on August 23. Redshirt-sophomore goalkeeper Hunter Morse played all 90 minutes in goal and ensured the Spartans didn’t allow a single goal through all their exhibition games. However, the offense still couldn’t punch through as MSU ended the game with another 0-0 tie. The first half included five total shots, with three of those on goal. The final nine minutes also saw three shots, but none got through. Senior midfielder Giuseppe Barone led the Spartans with four shots, one on goal, while sophomore forward Farai Mutatu added two shots as well.
August 30, SIUE Cougars, 0-0, Tie
The Spartans opened their season August 30th against SIUE at DeMartin Soccer Complex. The SIUE Cougars were coached by first-year Head Coach Cale Wassermann, a former four-year MSU assistant including the College Cup run of the previous season. The Cougars had also been to MSU recently, advancing out of a first round win over the Spartans in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Overall this was the sixth meeting between the programs, and after this game the record is 2-2-2-. That was after this game resulted in a double-overtime tie. The Spartans dominated on offense with 16 shots, eight of which were on goal. Meanwhile SIUE managed just three shots total. Redhsit-sophomore goalkeeper Hunter Morse made his first start in goal as a Spartan with a shutout. Farai Mutatu led the Spartans with five shots, three of which were on goal. After the game, the men’s soccer team headed over to Spartan Stadium for the football team’s season opener against Tulsa, and got to head out onto the field during a break in game play to be recognized for the College Cup run of 2018.
September 2, Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, 1-1, Tie
The Spartans hosted the FGCU Eagles on Labor Day. After the Eagles managed a score on a penalty shot by Ivan Rosales with just two minutes left it looked like they would walk out of the state with a sweep after Rosales scored the game-winner to beat Michigan Friday night in Ann Arbor. However, the Spartans drew a penalty of their own with just 57 seconds left, and MSU’s Alex Shterenberg got it past the goalie (BTN clip below). After a scoreless two overtimes the game ended in a tie. FGCU outshot the Spartans 16-14, and managed six shots on goal to MSU’s four.
September 6, No. 13 Washington Huskies, 0-1, Loss
The Spartans hosted Washington with a pregame ceremony honoring the NCAA College Cup team with an unveiling of the banner to be displayed at DeMartin Soccer Complex. As for the game, however, it was a 1-0 loss for our Spartans. The Huskies mangaed 14 shots, eight of which were on goal, while MSU managed just nine shots, with only three on goal. Washington scored in the last two minutes of the first half, and kept the Spartans scoreless to leave East Lansing with the win.
September 8, Cornell Big Red, 2-1, Loss
Another home game for the Spartans, and another loss in the non-conference slate. Similar to the football team’s woes, injuries began to take their toll on the roster with both Barone and Nielsen, among other Spartans, sitting out. As a result, 11 freshman and sophomores played significant minutes against the Big Red, with three true freshmen starting. MSU and Cornell both scored goals in the second half to force overtime, but Cornell managed to score in the first overtime to seal a win. The Big Red ended with 19 shots, eight on goal. Meanwhile the Spartans managed just six, with four on goal.
September 14, at Dartmouth Big Green, 2-1, Loss
MSU dropped their road season opener in Hanover, New Hampshire to the Dartmouth Big Green 2-1. Once again an injured Nielsen and Barone had to sit out, but MSU had no trouble mustering offense. What they did struggle with was converting. The Spartans managed a 20-6 advantage in shots, but Dartmouth made them all count as it was an even 6-6 at shots on goal. The Spartans managed just four saves, while the Big Green grabbed five to notch the win. Junior midfielder Michael Miller scored his first goal of the season at the 51:14 mark in game play off an assist from Cody Sweatte.
September 20, Western Michigan Broncos, 1-0, Loss
The Broncos made the trip up to East Lansing and left with a win to keep the Spartans win-less on the season. Despite a career high 12 saves by Hunter Morse in goal, Michigan State couldn’t stop every single one of the 13 shots on goal Western managed as the Bronco’s Charlie Sharp scored the lone goal of the game at the 31:13 mark off an assist by Max Keenan. MSU had to continue its reliance on young players with redshirt-freshman defender Colton Stanley getting his first career start. The Spartans managed just nine total shots in the game, only two of which were on goal.
September 24, No. 21 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 1-0, Loss
Notre Dame came into East Lansing on a two-game losing streak, but managed a late goal to leave with the win. A still shorthanded MSU squad kept it competitive despite a 13-8 shot disadvantage. However, the Spartans were competitive with shots on goal, coming in just beating the Fighting Irish four-to-three. It wasn’t enough, however, as Notre Dame’s Mchael Pellegrino scored at the 79:41 mark and hold off for the win.
September 27, at No. 22 Rutgers, 3-0, Win
Michigan State finally notched a badly needed “W” on the road in their Big Ten opener over No. 22 ranked Rutgers. What a win it was, as well. Three different Spartans scored in this one, with MSU having a huge shots on goal advantage over the Scarlet Knights of nine-to-three. Freshman midfielder Gianni Ferri scored his first collegiate goal at the 28:11 mark. Then Sophomore midfielder Olu Ogunwale scored his own first career goal at the 40:43 mark off an assist by Farai Mutatu to wrap up the first half. Then late in the second sophomore forward Farai Mutatu punched in his own goal in the 86th minute.
Victory for MSU! Spartans 3, No. 22 Rutgers 0.— MSU Men's Soccer (@MSUmsoccer) September 28, 2019
Gianni Ferri @giannn92, the NJ native and hometown kid Olu Ogunwale @oluuuuuuu, and Farai Mutatu @FaraiMutatu net goals & @MorseHunter earns shutout making 3 saves.
some highlights ⬇️ https://t.co/ttdLoTeG9o
Meanwhile, Hunter Morse finished the game with three saves to earn his second clean sheet on the season.
The Spartans begin the month of October with sophomore forward Farai Mutatu being named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week. He was the first Spartan of the season to earn Big Ten honors, and led MSU in scoring with three points.
October 1, Penn State Nittany Lions, 3-0, Loss
The Spartans ended faculy and staff appreciation day with a 3-0 home loss to Penn State, however. MSU managed just two shots on goal to Penn State’s 10. The Nittany Lions scored their first goal just over halfway through the first half, and two more in the second for the win.
October 6, at Wisconsin Badgers, 2-1, OT Win
Managing to do what the football couldn’t a week later, the men’s soccer team traveled to Wisconsin and actually scored. Not just that, they scored two goals and left Madison with a win to move to 2-1 in conference play. MSU had a nine-to-seven shot advantage, but it was even with shots on goal at four apiece. At 19:03 mark, redshirt-sophomore midfielder Alex Shterenberg notched his second goal of the season to give MSU the lead.
SPARTAN GOAL!!! MSU takes the 1-0 goal after a blast by Alex Shterenberg1 pic.twitter.com/SxiGhg1MIm— MSU Men's Soccer (@MSUmsoccer) October 6, 2019
Wisconsin answered back in the second half 65:39 into game play with a long-distance shot by Duncan Storey to tie it up. The game would go into overtime, but less than four minutes in Michael Miller took a corner kick earned by Farai Mutatu and got the bounce to give the Spartans a 2-1 win.
October 11, No. 25 Maryland Terrapins, 1-1, Tie
In a poor weather condition game, the Spartans managed to battle the reigning national champions to a 1-1 tie. This was despite a 16-to-seven shot disadvantage for the Spartans, with Hunter Morse coming up big with six saves as goalkeeper. Michael Pimlott scored for the Spartans with a long-range goal just under two minutes remaining in the first half.
1-0 SPARTANS!!!!!!!! Gianni Ferri finds the foot of Michael Pimlott for his first goal of the season to put the Spartans on the board first to close the half against #25 Maryland! pic.twitter.com/SqNgtxKYp9— MSU Men's Soccer (@MSUmsoccer) October 11, 2019
The game did not go into overtime due to concerns for player safety as field conditions deteriorated too much in the rain.
October 15, at Akron Zips, 2-0, Loss
The Spartans hit the road for a rematch of the 2018 semi-final in Santa Barbara, California where they lost to Akron 5-1. Despite the desire for revenge, MSU dropped this one 2-0. It was also new Spartan Assistant Head Coach TJ Kolba’s first trip back to Akron where he was an assistant from 2015-2019. Unfortunately Michigan State only managed just one shot on goal, while Akron had the advantage with five, two of which got past MSU’s goalkeeper.
October 19, Ohio State Buckeyes, 3-1, Win
Michigan State once again had three different Spartans score as they went on to a 3-1 home win over Ohio State. In front of a raucous crowd of Red Cedar Rowdies for a double-header with the women’s soccer team on Alumni Day, MSU came through with a dominant performance. With a 19-11 shot advantage, including a 10-to-seven shot on goal advantage, MSU recovered from an early goal by the Buckeyes just over 26 minutes into regulation to tie it up on a goal by Farai Mutatu off an assist from Michael Miller and Conner George just under six minutes remaining in the first half.
In the second half, true freshman Conner George would score his first collegiate goal just over four minutes in to give MSU the 2-1 lead thanks to an assist from Michael Miller and Alex Shterenberg.
Finally, just over 55 minutes into the game Michael Wetungu scored his first goal of the season off a corner kick from Michael Miller that was then sent Wetungu’s way to flick in thanks to a well placed header by Patrick Nielsen.
October 22, at Oakland Grizzlies, 1-0, Loss
Wrapping up the non-conference games for the season, Michigan State fell to in-state foe Oakland in Rochester after giving up a late second half goal. The loss sunk MSU to 3-8-3 overall on the season, and came despite an 11-to-eight shot advantage for the Spartans. However. the Grizzlies had a three-to-two advantage in shots on goal, while both teams came up with two saves, leaving MSU one save short.
October 26, at Northwestern Wildcats, 1-0, Loss
Michigan State hit the road to Evanston for the start of three straight road games. The Spartans left with a heartbreaker as NU’s Matt Moderwell scored with just 42 seconds left in regulation after a scrum in the box. While MSU had an eight-to-six shot advantage, NU outshot the Spartans on goal three-to-one.
October 29, at Michigan Wolverines in the Battle for the Big Bear Trophy, 2-0, Loss
The Spartans traveled to Ann Arbor next in hopes of keeping the Big Bear Trophy in East Lansing after three straight seasons in control. Michigan last won the trophy in 2015, but lost it in 2016 in East Lansing, failed to win it back in 2017, and tied with MSU in 2018 in East Lansing. The Wolverines scored early just over nine minutes into game-play, and got another goal with just under eight minutes left in the first half.
November 3, No. 10 Indiana Hoosiers, 1-0, Loss
The Spartans dropped their final regular season game of the season to No. 10 ranked Indiana at home on senior day. In the pregame ceremony, the Spartans recognized seniors Michael Pimlott, Giuseppe Barone, and Michael Wetungu. Despite an even 10 shots each, Indiana managed a four-to-two shots on goal advantage. Jack Maher managed to get the ball in on a penalty kick with 28:38 on the game-clock, and the Spartans failed to convert any of their shots. Michael Miller led Michigan State with four shots, while Alex Shterenberg managed three, including one on goal.
With the loss, MSU earned the sixth seed in the Big Ten tournament, edging out No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 8 Ohio State, and No. 9 Rutgers. They drew No. 3 Michigan.
November 10, at Michigan Wolverines, Big Ten Tournament, 2-1, Loss
In what would prove to be the final game of the season for the No. 6 seeded Michigan State Spartans, the season ended with a 2-1 loss to the No. 3 seed Wolverines. MSU did take the lead early when freshman forward Gianni Ferri scored in the 21st minute for his second goal of the season off an assist from sophomore midfielder Olu Ogunwale. Unfortunately Michigan was able to answer the goal in the 60th minute on a goal by Derick Broche, and take the decisive lead on another in the 73rd minute when Jack Hallahan slipped it into the goal.
Season Accolades And Post-Season Updates
For the second straight season, Patrick Nielsen earned All-Big Ten honors as he was named to the All-Big Ten second team. This was despite Patrick playing through an injury riddled season, and was the first time since 1998 MSU did not feature at least one first-team selection. Senior forward Cody Sweatte earned the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award for MSU.
Michigan State saw two players drafted by the MLS. Patrick Nielsen was the 23rd pick overall, being selected in the first round by Atlanta United FC.
Patrick Nielsen is heading South! @ATLUTD takes the defender as the 23rd pick in the first round! He is the third first round pick for MSU in the last two seasons!#SpartansinthePros // #GoGreen pic.twitter.com/zNahbQ8ZBE— MSU Men's Soccer (@MSUmsoccer) January 9, 2020
In addition, Michael Wetungu was selected 46th overall, picked in the second round by Real Salt Lake.
Defender @mikey_wets is headed West! @realsaltlake takes Wetungu with the 46th overall pick! That is 5️⃣ Spartans drafted in the last 2️⃣ years!#SpartansinthePros | #GoGreen pic.twitter.com/0S5rOlZVd7— MSU Men's Soccer (@MSUmsoccer) January 9, 2020
Finally, Nick Woodruff signed with the New England Revolution II.
Lastly, Michael Pimlott earned the 2020 Scholar-Athlete Award after achieving the highest cumulative GPA on the team.
That’s a wrap on the 2019 Michigan State men’s soccer season. We’ll be back this fall (hopefully) with a seasoned team after an injury plagued season gave a young roster plenty of playing time.