EAST LANSING, Mich.–The Michigan State men’s soccer team played the last of a three-game homestand Sunday afternoon when they took on 25th-ranked Penn State. Both teams were red hot coming into the match. Penn State was riding a four-game winning streak entering Sunday’s game while the Spartans were looking to preserve their unbeaten season. They did so, but not in the way they would’ve hoped as they recorded a 0-0 draw.
The promising ranked matchup did not disappoint, as both offenses traded blows from the start. The first chance of the game came in the seventh minute when a cross forced MSU redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Zac Kelly to punch the ball right onto the head of Penn State fifth year senior defender Alex Stevenson, which almost ricocheted into the goal. Minutes later, MSU had a chance of their own when sophomore forward Jonathan Stout fired off a shot from just inside the box, which was blocked before it had a chance to reach Penn State fifth year goalkeeper Kris Shakes.
In the 15th minute, Penn State freshman forward Samson Kpardeh forced the first save of the game with a shot to the bottom-left corner.
Penn State had most of the ball in the first half, but the Spartan defense held firm. In the 38th minute, junior midfielder Van Danielson was in a threatening position to shoot just inside the box, but MSU senior midfielder Jacob Cromer swooped in to snatch the ball away before he had the chance. Two minutes later, Danielson had another chance right in front of the goal, but his shot wasn’t enough to beat Kelly who dove to his right to make his second save of the day.
At the end of the scoreless first half, it was clear that the Spartans would have some work to do when play resumed. Penn State was able to control the ball and the pace of play and it showed on the statsheet. The Nittany Lions had four shots to Michigan State’s two, as well as the only two shots on goal of the game. If they didn’t make some changes, the Spartans were in danger of dropping their first game of the season.
When the teams came back onto the field, MSU seemed to have made the necessary adjustments. In the 47th minute, MSU sophomore forward Jake Spadafora made a promising run into the Penn State half. He dumped it off to Jonathan Stout who made the overlapping run and fired off a shot which won a corner for the Spartans. A few minutes later, another promising run by Spadafora had him passing it to senior forward Greyson Mercer at the edge of the box for a clear shot on goal. The forward ended up misfiring the ball well over the crossbar. Spartans head coach Damon Rensing spoke on the halftime adjustments that were made.
“We just said ‘hey, commit to the box, commit to runs’ and we came out strong and we created some good corners. Just couldn’t quite get that goal,” said Rensing.
Though the game remained scoreless, the shift in momentum was palpable. The Spartans were visibly hungrier, going after every ball and creating turnovers wherever they could. This certainly seemed to have a frustrating effect on the Penn State players, as senior forward Peter Mangione and junior midfielder Ben Liscom both picked up yellow cards for hard fouls in the 59th and 62nd minutes respectively.
With less than four minutes to play, MSU sophomore midfielder Cristiano Bruletti took down Penn State freshman midfielder Caden Grabfelder just outside the box. It almost produced the winning goal for Penn State, as Ben Liscum’s free kick was parried away by Zac Kelly for his fifth save of the game.
That ended up being the last meaningful action of the game, as the whistle blew a few minutes later signaling a 0-0 draw. It’s the first time all season that MSU has failed to score, and despite six shots, the Spartans failed to record a shot on goal either. With a road trip to Wisconsin and Michigan coming up, the Spartans will look to improve their attack.
On the other hand, the Spartans extended their unbeaten streak to nine games to start the season. Zac Kelly kept a clean sheet with five saves. In concert with MSU’s backline, he stopped a Penn State attack that looked poised to score the winner.
“Unfortunately we just didn’t quite have that conviction or that last pass or that shot,” said Rensing. “But it was a good game, and I’m proud of our guys. Any time we can keep a clean sheet, we’re happy.”
Michigan State will look to stay unbeaten when they travel to Madison to take on Wisconsin this Friday at 8 p.m.