EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State’s men’s soccer team is College Cup bound after the Spartans’ thrilling 2-1 victory over James Madison at a cold, wet, spirited DeMartin Field Saturday night in the Elite Eight.
MSU advances to the College Cup for the first time since 1968, when the Spartans won the national title. Overall it is the Spartans’ seventh trip to the College Cup.
“As far as the game goes, I like the way it started I mean I thought we created good chances, and we knew that James Madison was lethal on the counter and they countered very well. They got one goal there, and I thought our guys showed great resilience. We talked about being patient, we had 45 minutes to score. We thought if we got the one the second will come, and we had two great plays,” MSU head coach Damon Rensing said. “I think Farai (Mutatu) left it out for Ryan, he finished it and then Connor Corrigan I tell you I couldn’t be more proud of a guy. If you guys only know what he went through only to come back and get the game-winning assist. That’s special and then obviously to put two goals away so what a team effort, very proud of the boys and we are excited to be the third team to represent the Big Ten in the Final Four College Cup.”
The Spartans improved to 14-4-4 on the year, tying a school record for single-season wins, matching the 2013 squad that posted a 14-6-3 ledger. James Madison ends its season after an incredible upset run in the NCAA Tournament, upsetting fifth-seeded North Carolina and 12th-seeded Virginia Tech on the way to the Elite Eight, finishing with a 15-5-3 record.
Michigan State is one of three Big Ten Conference teams in the College Cup next weekend in Santa Barbara, California, joining B1G-champion and second-seeded Indiana and 11th-seeded Maryland. The Spartans will face fellow unseeded Akron on Friday, Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. ET, before Indiana and Maryland tangle at 10:45 p.m. ET, with the winners playing in the National Championship match on Sunday, Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. ET. All three matches of the College Cup will be nationally televised on ESPNU.
The MSU-Akron match will be rematch of a regular-season battle between the two, won by the Zips, 2-1, on Oct. 9 at DeMartin Stadium. The Spartans also played Maryland and Indiana in regular-season action, winning at Maryland, 2-0, on Oct. 5, and dropping a 1-0 OT loss at Indiana on Oct. 28. MSU also lost to Maryland, 1-0 in OT, in the first round of the B1G Tournament on Nov. 4, before beginning its NCAA Tournament win streak, winning, 2-0, over UIC at home on Nov. 15, before upsetting No. 4 seed Lousville, 2-1 in OT, on Nov. 18 and 1-0 at 13th-seeded Georgetown on Nov. 25.
Senior forward Ryan Sierakowski netted two second-half goals Saturday night as MSU overcame a 1-0 halftime deficit as JMU scored in the 32nd minute. Sierakowski scored in the 72nd minute to level the score and his game-winner came in the 81st minute. Senior midfielder Robbie Cort and freshman forward Farai Mutatu assisted on Sierakowski’s first goal, while a pair of defenders, redshirt-sophomore Patrick Nielsen and senior Connor Corrigan earned the helpers on the second.
Sierakowski netted his team-leading seventh and eighth goals of the season, as he continues to try to become the first Spartan player to lead MSU in scoring in four-straight years. The senior forward now has 33 career goals, moving up to tie for No. 6 on MSU’s goals list, matching Jean Lohri (1960-62).
Senior goalkeeper Jimmy Hague made four saves Saturday night, as he now has 79 saves on the season. It was Hague’s 40th career victory for MSU, becoming just the second keeper in Spartan men’s soccer history with 40 or more wins, joining Zach Bennett, who holds the school record with 43 wins from 2012-15.
JMU goalkeeper TJ Bush also made four saves, including one in the 64th minute that required video review to determine that he kept the ball out of the net. Bush and JMU entered Saturday’s match ranked No. 3 in the NCAA in team goals against average (0.48) and No. 6 in shutouts with 13, only allowing 11 goals all season (0.5 per game).
“I mean, just getting into the tournament wasn’t a lock so that was nervy time for us and once we saw our name come up and hosting UIC, we knew that could’ve been potentially our last game at DeMartin, so we wanted to leave it all on the field and that win was special. Then to go on the road, we did against Louisville and Georgetown, we definitely didn’t anticipate hosting again and as soon as we knew we were going to host James Madison we just… I don’t know. It was unbelievable, like the crowd… Rowdies were great tonight. Everyone who came out was loud and supportive and it was unbelievable,” Sierakowski said.
JMU threatened early, with a pair of shots in the first 15 minutes, including a breakaway by Billy Metzler in the 12th minute that Hague made a sprawling save to deny the Dukes.
MSU picked up its pressure minutes later, with senior forward DeJuan Jones getting denied by JMU keeper TJ Bush in the 18th minute.
The Spartans continued their pressure and it nearly paid off in the 27th minute, with senor defender John Freitag getting a header, but it was blocked by the JMU backline and cleared away.
James Madison broke through in the 32nd minute, with a give-and-go by Niclas Mohr to Carson Jeffris, back to Mohr who slotted the ball past a diving Hague, off the right post and into the net for a 1-0 Dukes’ advantage.
The Spartans threatened in the 40th minute after a corner, getting two close-range shots off, but were turned away by the Duke defense. Two minutes later MSU was called for offside on a quality attack, leaving the score 1-0, JMU at halftime. First-half shots were even, 3-3, in the first 45 minutes, with the Spartans having a 3-1 corner kick advantage.
Michigan State came charging out of the second-half gates and cranked its pressure up, getting continued pressure on the JMU backline, but Bush and the defense denied the MSU attack. In the 64th minute, Mutatu had a blast from the top of the 18-yard box that Bush made a sprawling save, with his momentum taking him into the mouth of the goal, but just keeping the ball out, which the officials video reviewed at next available dead ball and ruled it did not cross the goal line.
MSU earned a free kick from just outside the box at the left corner in the 70th minute. Junior midfielder Giuseppe Barone took the kick and swung a shot to the far post that Bush dove and snared as the shot was headed to the upper right corner.
The Spartans’ continued pressure was rewarded in the 72nd minute, breaking through after a pass from the right wing to the middle by Cort, then Mutatu had a nifty back-heel pass through-ball and Sierakowski slotted it home to the left corner to level the score at 1-1.
MSU nearly had the go-ahead goal in the 77th minute, but senior forward Hunter Barone’s shot was snared by Bush. Hunter Barone had another chance in the 89th minute, getting a nice centering pass from Jones, but his shot sailed high and wide.
The Spartans broke the tie in the 81st minute with Nielsen firing a long pass from midfield down the left wing, to fellow defender Corrigan, who slotted a left-footed volley pass through to Sierakowski and he slid the ball past Bush and into the right side of the net for the 2-1 lead.
JMU did not go quietly into the cold, misty night, as the Dukes pushed forward going to the equalizer, but Hague and the Spartan defense held bold and resolute. Hague made saves in the 87th and 89th minute, sealing the victory for MSU and sparking the wild celebration.
Further College Cup information will be announced on www.MSUSpartans.com.