Michigan State - Four Star Recruiting Class - There are two big unanswered questions associated with the Spartans heading into the 2013 season in addition to the standard concerns. The first is will they remain healthy. The second is whether or not they will play the entire season with the same sense of urgency that they displayed during the second half of the 2012 campaign. If both of those questions are answered in the affirmative then Michigan State should put a lot of wins on the board in 2013.
Regarding injuries, every team is likely to experience a few bumps and bruises during a season but the Spartans have clearly been over quota in that regard for the past few seasons. As for slow starts the fact that Michigan State began the 2011 season with a 1-5-1 record and the 2012 season with a 3-6-1 record pretty much speaks for itself. In 2011 they rebounded to finish with a 7-8-4 overall record but it was to little to late. Last year to their credit the Spartans got back on track and finished with a 12-10-1 overall record, won the Big Ten Tournament, earned the program’s fifth invite to the NCAA Tourney in the past six seasons, and topped Cleveland State 2-1 before losing to number one seed Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tourney. It was an improbable and inspiring come back for the Spartans but the concept of digging yourself into a hole and then trying to come back from it is a high risk proposition and not the type of habit that Spartan head coach Damon Rensing likely wants his team to develop.
The Spartans return nine starters from the 2012 team along with several players who added valuable minutes and a five member recruiting class that should add depth. Departures due to graduation include forward Domenic Barone (3g, 2a) who was among the players hampered due to injury, midfielder Nick Wilson (2g, 4a) and midfielder Luke Norman (3g, 2a) who transferred in from Wake Forest with only one season of eligibility.
Junior Adam Montague (8g, 6a), a 2012 First Team All-Big Ten selection, returns up-top to power the attack. Montague was among the better players in the Big Ten last year and will no doubt once again play a key role in the Spartan offense. Rensing stated, “There was a direct correlation between his (Montague’s) personal performance and our success down the stretch.” Sophomore Jay Chapman (4g, 1a), who missed three games last year due to injury, also returns to add pop to the attack either up-top or in the midfield. Chapman was a 2012 Third Team All-Freshman selection by College Soccer News and was named to the All-Big Ten All-Freshman team. Redshirt junior Tim Kreutz (1g, 1a) who saw action in twenty contests last year is among other returning forwards with the potential to add to the offense.
Redshirt senior Cody Henderson (2g, 2a), junior Fatai Alashe (1g, 5a) , and sophomore Sean Conerty (2g, 3a) who gained valuable experience last year are among key returning midfielders. Senior Kyle Rutz (1g, 0a), junior Blake Skamiera (0g, 1a), and redshirt sophomore Asa Miller are among other returning linkmen who will battle for additional playing time in 2013.
The backline looks to be a team strength led by senior center back Kevin Cope (1g, 0a) who was a 2012 All-Big Ten selection. Cope, who missed almost all of the 2011 season due to injury, is a prime timer who has been an impact player since arriving in East Lansing as a freshman in 2009. Rensing stated, “Part of Kevin’s success is his athletic and soccer talents. But what really separates Kevin is his ability to communicate and lead on and off the field.”
Cope will be joined in the back by Evan Thelen (0g, 7a) and redshirt junior Ryan Keener (g, 1a) who are very athletic and experienced defenders. Senior back Josh Barens who was a starter in 2010 and 2011 but missed the 2012 season due to an ACL injury is set to return in 2013 which is a huge plus for the Spartan back line. Senior Wesley Curtis will also be in the mix either in the midfield or in the back. Ditto that for sophomore Jerome Cristobal who should also contend for playing time.
Sophomore Zach Bennett who started thirteen contests last year returns in goal and should be the starter. Redshirt senior Bryce Dobbins who started ten contests last year also returns. Bennett who was an All-Big Ten All-Freshman selection had a 0.99 goals against average with three shutouts. Dobbins had a 1.22 goals against average and notched one shutout. Both are experienced and technically sound keepers.
Michigan State’s five member recruiting class is solid but it does not have the “star power” of the 2012 class that included Chapman, Conerty, and Bennett among others and was rated by College Soccer News as the eighth best class in the country. Dewey Lewis, who is an NSCAA High School All-American and was named Michigan’s “Mr. Soccer” is among the most decorated newcomers. Lewis is a very versatile and athletic player who can add value up-top, as an outside midfielder, or outside back. Midfielder Brian Winterfield who is rated by CSN as among the top 150 players in the class of 2013 is among other members of the class who will likely make an impact before his stay in East Lansing is over.
Michigan State looks to be as deep, experienced, and talented as any team in the Big Ten. Their early season slumps are a puzzling concern but with a veteran team back another slow start is unlikely and they loom as a very dangerous team.
Ali Cheaib - Forward - Dearborn, Michigan - Crestwood High School - Played with the Crew Soccer Academy Wolves. Two-time All-League and All-District selection. All-State as a junior.
Andrew (Dewey) Lewis - Midfielder - Rockford, Michigan - Rockford High School - NSCAA High School All-American. Michigan’s Mr. Soccer. Rated by CSN as the #143 player in the class of 2013.
Austin Piwinski - Defender - Harrison Township, Michigan - DeLa Salle Collegiate - Vardar SC Freiburg Academy. All-League. All-District. May be most athletic member of the recruiting class.
Ryan Scott - Defender - Grand Rapids, Michigan - Forest Hills Eastern - All-District. All-Conference. Played Club Soccer for the Grand Rapids Crew Juniors. First-Team All-State as a senior.
Brian Winterfield - Midfielder - Grand Blanc, Michigan - Grand Blanc - Rated by CSN as the #138 player in the class of 2013. Vardar SC Freiburg Academy. All-Conference. All-District. ODP team.