Aug. 27, 2008
There’s no time like the present for Michigan State men’s soccer. The squad is coming off its eighth consecutive winning season and a trip to the NCAA Championship. Nine players with extensive college experience return from last season’s 11-6-4 team, including three players who earned All-Big Ten honors. And most importantly, the Spartans are opening a new soccer stadium, the DeMartin Soccer Complex, in 2008.
Michigan State, traditionally a strong defensive team, will combine its defensive approach with an infusion of offensive firepower this season, with an aim on returning to the NCAA Championship.
Michigan State coach Joe Baum is quick to admit that in years past, Michigan State hasn’t always been incredibly dynamic on offense.
Those days are gone, as the forward corps is led by senior Doug DeMartin, who led the Big Ten with 12 goals in 2007. DeMartin, who has 21 career goals and 48 career points, was voted unanimously as a first-team All-Big Ten honoree and also garnered All-Great Lakes Region accolades.
The other top forward is senior Louis Stephens III, who scored three goals in a reserve role last season. Stephens has always been a productive player, and Baum thinks his production will soar with increased playing time this year.
Another senior, Karl Trost, will also be in the mix at the forward spot.
Additionally, MSU has a pair of talented freshman forwards in Dominic Barone and Rubin Bega. Barone earned NSCAA All-America honors as a high school senior last year, leading his team to a state championship. Bega scored 34 goals as a high school senior and has played top competition in Europe and South America.
The Spartan midfield has several players who have played significant minutes at the college level. MSU has a pair of seniors and a pair of sophomores that will see the majority of the minutes early, and the team has signed a bevy of talented freshmen.
Sophomore Spencer Thompson is the team’s top attack midfielder. Thompson has a knack for coming up big against tough opponents. He scored the game-winner in MSU’s win over No. 3 Notre Dame last season, and he also scored in the team’s win over Michigan later that week. Thompson, who started 19 matches last year, was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team and also competed in the U.S. U-20 player pool in New Orleans over the winter.
Seniors Zac Scaffidi and Ben Pirmann have been anchors in the midfield for several seasons. Scaffidi has started 40 matches the past two seasons, accumulating four goals and six assists in his career.
Pirmann enters his fifth season in East Lansing, having redshirted due to injury last year. He was a starter during the 2005 and 2006 seasons, and is a gritty and intelligent player.
Pirmann’s injury may have been a blessing in disguise for the Spartans, as it allowed the team to further develop redshirt sophomore Jeff Ricondo. As various midfielders suffered minor injuries last season, Ricondo stepped up and proved to be a solid player as a wide midfielder.
Two other players, junior Tim Granaderos and redshirt freshman Garret Back, are also in line to see minutes. Granaderos appeared in 14 contests last season, starting four times and notching his first career point.
The Spartans also add a pair of talented freshmen in Lansing native Cyrus Saydee and Mark Barone, the twin brother of forward Domenic Barone.
Saydee, who enters his freshman season at the age of 16, was the player of the year in the Lansing area last season, scoring 26 goals and 19 assists en route to first-team all-state honors. He has played on the Michigan U-17 Team and has had success in region ODP play.
Barone, a left-footer, is a strong and powerful player who should compete for playing time immediately.
Michigan State is very deep at defender, with 10 players who can legitimately play at the college level. Despite losing All-Big Ten senior Rauwshan McKenzie to the MLS, the cupboard is definitely not bare on the back line of the Spartan side.
Seniors Josh Rogers and David Hertel headline the group. Rogers, who started 18 matches in 2006, returns after leg injuries limited him to nine matches last year. He is what Baum calls “another coach on the field” and can be used in penalty kick situations as well.
Hertel, another two-year starter, was named to the All-Tournament team at the Big Ten Tournament last season. The fifth-year senior is fast, intelligent and can mark the opponent’s best forward.
Sophomore Nosa Iyoha came on strong last season in the wake of Rogers’ injury and played his way to All-Big Ten Freshman Team honors. Iyoha is extremely athletic and projects to play both in the back and at midfield.
The Spartans’ depth truly shows in the group of players competing for the right back and stopper spots. Redshirt sophomores Jake Fullerton and A.W. Stanek, redshirt freshmen Matt Cebula and Kolt Martin and freshmen Stephen Lucianek and David Sayre will all compete for playing time.
A wild card in the mix is Colin Givens, a transfer from Virginia. Givens, a Troy, Mich., native, appeared in 13 matches last season for the Cavaliers.
Unquestionably, the Spartans are deep at defender, meaning there are many talented players keeping pressure off the goalkeeper. Now, Baum and the coaching staff have to determine who that goalkeeper will be.
Redshirt sophomore Avery Steinlage and redshirt freshman Jeremy Clark are the top contenders for the starting goalkeeper position. Baum says both players are equal heading into the season, and both are capable netminders.
Steinlage, who redshirted in 2006 and didn’t see action last year, lacks experience, but he makes up for it with extreme athleticism and a strong leg.
Clark has been a succesful goalie in high school and at the ODP level, where he competed against top teams from around the nation.
The third goalie is redshirt sophomore Joe Gregus.