After a bumpy start to their season opener at home, the Notre Dame men’s soccer team is on the road to East Lansing to take on the 1-0 Michigan State Spartans.
Last week, Michigan State beat Army 2-1 in a game that statistically was very similar to the Irish’s loss against Seattle. Like Notre Dame, Army led Michigan State in shots on goal and corners. Despite these advantages, Army was unable to come up with the win. However, Army’s experiences should set Notre Dame expectations for what the Irish will face in East Lansing.
Both of Michigan State’s goals last week were the result of aggressive box play — a deflection and a well-placed corner kick. The Irish must focus on winning the midfield 50/50 battles and clearing the ball out of box (even if a Spartan outside the box eventually takes possession), because their past performance shows that they capitalize on sloppy and hectic box play.
On the offensive side, Notre Dame needs to pressure Michigan State’s back line. Army’s lone goal came from a one-on-one with their goalie.
The Irish must also watch out for redshirt senior Will Perkins and freshman Jake Spadafora, who both scored for Michigan State, as well as graduate student Jack Beck and junior Greyson Mercer. Perkins, Beck and Mercer were all on this year’s Big Ten Players to Watch list. Michigan State is expected to finish fifth in the Big Ten this year behind Indiana (who Notre Dame will face Sept. 3 in Bloomington), Penn State, Michigan and Maryland.
Notre Dame is facing its own conference race as this upcoming game will be important to stay close to other ACC teams in the rankings. Clemson, Pitt and Duke all won in their first games.
Despite Thursday’s loss, Notre Dame has a lot to feel good about going into this game. The underclassmen stepped up at key moments and will likely continue to be featured in the lineups. Freshman Wyatt Borso started for the Irish with other freshmen Mitch Ferguson, KK Baffour and Sebastian Green all seeing the field, as well.
Head coach Chad Riley was very impressed with the performance of his young players against Seattle and spoke positively about their upcoming games.
“All the first-year guys did a great job coming out,” Riley said. “I think it’s going to be a class that features a lot over their four years. Some of the [personnel decisions] were positional and some of the guys just came in and adapted a little bit quicker, but overall, they’ve had a great start.”
The leadership roles of these underclassmen will be important as Notre Dame looks to prove their exceptional season last year was no accident. In recent years, Notre Dame has struggled against Michigan State. Last year, Notre Dame led at halftime at home 3-0, before Michigan State scored four goals and shut out the Irish in the second half. Despite the last meeting’s unfortunate turn of events, Notre Dame still leads all time 18-9-6.
But at the end of the day — as Riley said after last week’s loss — Notre Dame has to play good teams to get better. This week, we will see how much they learned playing against Seattle and what they will do differently to try and secure the win on Monday night.