The No. 6 seed Ohio State men’s soccer team hits the road and looks for revenge against the No. 3 seeded Spartans in the first round of the Big Ten tournament at 1 p.m. Sunday at DeMartin Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan.
The Buckeyes (7-9-1, 3-5-0 Big Ten) enter the matchup riding an eight-game losing streak, which started against the Spartans, as Ohio State lost 5-1 on Oct. 1. In their last game of the season, the Buckeyes fell 2-0 to Wisconsin.
Head coach John Bluem thought the cause of the loss came from self-inflicted mistakes by the team.
“I think what we learned most from that game is that our own mistakes is what really killed us,” Bluem said. “Immediately after tying the game up, before halftime we allowed another goal which kind of killed us. In the second half, I don’t think we had the attitude and the mental capacity to come back from that mistake.”
The Spartans (11-2-3, 5-0-3 Big Ten) are coming off of a 1-1 tie against Indiana and are undefeated at home this season (5-0-2). The five in-conference wins were the most in program history.
Senior forward Nate Kohl believes the loss earlier in the season to the Spartans was not an accurate representation of Ohio State.
“We’re going to Michigan State and it’s not an easy place to play, but I believe that if we play at our very best I think we can beat them,” Kohl said. “I mean the game we played earlier in East Lansing this year, I don’t think it was the character of our team. A 5-1 loss wasn’t Ohio State soccer, we’re going to come out and we’re going to be ready to play.”
The Buckeyes are led offensively by junior midfielder Abdi Mohamed, who has 11 points (three goals, five assists), and freshman forward Joshua Jackson-Ketchup, who has seven points (three goals, one assist). But scoring will not be easy against junior goalkeeper Jimmy Hague, who was the first-ever Spartan to win Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year.
Ohio State will take on a tough Spartan defense, which ranks second in the nation in shutout percentage (.643) and 11th in team goals against average (.667).
The Spartans are led offensively by junior forward Ryan Sierakowski, who has 17 points (seven goals, three assists), and junior forward Dejuan Jones, who has 16 points (six goals, four assists). The Buckeyes hope to return starting sophomore goalie Parker Siegfried, who is 7-5-1 on the season.
The Buckeye defense is holding opponents to 1.24 goals per game, but Siegfried allows just .90 goals per game and has picked up seven shutouts.
Senior defender Hunter Robertson is embracing the Buckeyes’ underdog role and thinks it can play to their advantage.
“Every year I’ve played in the Big Ten tournament there has always been some upsets,” Robertson said. “They thrashed us the first time, but I think this time if we can bring more intensity into the gameplay, be more physical, and if we can get one or two on them we can win the game.”
Even though it’s single-game elimination, Robertson has confidence in his team to push through the adversity presented to them.
“One game at a time, if you lose you’re out that’s the mindset right now,” Robertson said. “If we lose this game it’s my last game playing at Ohio State and I really don’t want that to happen, so I’ll do whatever I can to prevent it.”
Robertson is one of three Ohio State players in the past 10 years to start in over 80 matches. He wants his senior year to continue and to have the chance to set the school record for most starts in program history, which would only be possible if the Buckeyes make it to the National Championship game.
“If you would have told me that I was going to have that many starts when I first came in, I probably would’ve laughed and told you that you were crazy,” Robertson said. “I feel very humble and appreciative of every opportunity the coaches have given me and this has been, by far, the best experience of my life and I hope I can drag it out for as long as possible.”