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Men’s soccer: Pivotal match looming for Buckeyes against No. 25 Michigan State

OSU senior midfielder Ben Fitzpatrick looks to gather possession of the ball in the second half against Rutgers on Sept. 18, 2016. Credit: Gene Ross | Lantern reporter

OSU senior midfielder Ben Fitzpatrick looks to gather possession of the ball in the second half against Rutgers on Sept. 18, 2016. Credit: Gene Ross | Lantern reporter

The Ohio State men’s soccer team has not yet performed to its potential this year.

Now at the halfway point in the season, the Buckeyes stand at 3-7. They have yet to win a road game, with four of the team’s losses coming outside of Columbus. Not all is lost, however, as OSU began Big Ten play with a 2-1 record.

“Obviously, overall our season isn’t going the way we wanted it to,” OSU coach John Bluem said. “The conference gives you that chance to forget about the nonconference matches. It gives you that chance to still make a statement.”

The Buckeyes will have a chance to improve that record this Sunday, as they take on No. 25 Michigan State at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium at 2 p.m.

“Looking forward I think we have to focus on the Big Ten especially,” senior defender Austin Bergstrom said. “We are still in the race for the conference title. Having two wins and one loss right now is good. Hopefully we can build on that.”

The Big Ten remains wide open at this stage of the season. There is a four-way tie for second place at 2-1, which Ohio State shares with Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Penn State.

For the Buckeyes, who finished first in the Big Ten a season ago with a conference record of 5-2-1, dreams of a repeat remain very much alive.

“You only play eight conference matches and on Sunday that’s our fourth,” Bluem said. “If we can win that game and move to 3-1 that might give us a little separation from teams behind us and it will put us into that top group.”

The Spartans will provide quite the challenge. At 6-2 overall this season, Michigan State has limited opponents to only six goals through eight games. Their only in-conference loss came on the road last Friday to Maryland, who currently leads the Big Ten at 3-0-1.

A big reason for Sparty’s success has been the play of redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Jimmy Hague. Hague, who has started all eight games, has made 30 saves this season; good enough for a .833 save percentage and 0.76 goals against average.

On offense, Michigan State is lead by sophomore forward Ryan Sierakowski. Sierakowski has tallied seven points for the Spartans on three goals, which were all game-winners, and one assist. Sierakowski has taken 23 shots on the season, nine more than the next most on the team.

For the Buckeyes, winning the Big Ten is the first thing on their mind. They know the upcoming stretch can make or break those aspirations.

“This is our top priority right now,” senior forward Danny Jensen said. “After that we just have to get some wins on the road and get back to .500. Then we have to try to make a little run to get to where we want to be.”

OSU has lost its last two games, an away match at Bowling Green and a home contest against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Jensen, who was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after his hat trick against Valparaiso, scored his team-leading fourth goal for the Buckeyes in the 3-2 loss to SIUE on Wednesday. Jensen leads the team with 11 points.

With matchups against Michigan State and Maryland on the horizon, the Buckeyes are in a stretch where they will face some of their toughest competition yet. They must be up to the task if they wish to keep their season alive.

“We will be ready, and we will come out and play as hard as we can,” Bluem said. “Certainly with the away game looming at No. 13 Maryland next week, it is a must win on Sunday for us.”

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