Valparaiso returned to Eastgate Field for the first time in nearly a month Sunday afternoon and gave the crowd of 488 fans an exciting match, coming back from an early deficit to force a 1-1 (2ot) draw with #19/17 Michigan State.
“This was a good result for us today against a very good Michigan State team,” said Crusader head coach Mike Avery. “Michigan State controlled more of the game than we did, but we did a great job staying organized and committed to our plan. I was really pleased with the young lineup we started today (Six freshmen, three sophomores, two juniors), as they all put in a really good performance, which is a great sign both for the overall depth of this year’s squad and for the future of our program.”
The Spartans wasted no time asserting themselves in the early going. Kevin Reiman found Kenzo Webster with a pass in the Valpo end. Webster dribbled around one Crusader defender to earn a one-on-one opportunity with Valpo goalkeeper Ryan Schwarz (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) and put a shot past Schwarz in the right-hand side of the net for the opening tally, just 28 seconds into the match.
“That wasn’t the way we had hoped to start the game,” said Avery. “But I don’t think it was anything other than overanxious play. The good news was our guys didn’t let it bury them. Last time we gave up an early goal, we ended up losing 4-0 (at Eastern Illinois). Today, we responded bravely and didn’t let it get us down.”
Most of the action in the first 25 minutes was controlled by Michigan State, which fired five shots and earned four corner kicks in the early going. But the Crusader defense kept the Spartans out of the six-yard box, and Schwarz made two key saves to keep the margin at one goal.
Valpo earned its first scoring opportunity in the 28th minute and took full advantage, scoring to tie the match up at 1-1. A Spartan foul gave Crusaders possession in their offensive zone, where Adrian Ortiz (Berwyn, Ill./Morton West) fed Ken Perkins (Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Kennedy) on the angle left about 20 yards out. Perkins played a beautiful cross into the box, and Steve Shively (Indianapolis, Ind./North Central) rose up above the defense to head the ball into the back of the net. For Shively, it was his team-best fourth goal of the season, while Ortiz picked up his sixth assist, most in the Horizon League and tied for third-most in a single season all-time at Valpo. It also marked Perkin's first career point.
The remainder of the first half was calmer, as only two shots were taken in the 18 minutes following the Valpo goal. Michigan State ended the half with an 8-1 advantage in shots, forcing Schwarz to make three stops in the opening 45 minutes. The Spartans also attempted nine corner kicks in the opening stanza.
The Crusaders found more offensive chances in the second half, firing five shots in the second 45 minutes, but could only put one shot on goal, a Shively chance that got turned aside by MSU netminder Chris Austin. Valpo’s defense kept the Spartans at bay for a good part of the second half, only giving up five shot attempts in the first 33 minutes of the stanza.
Michigan State started to put the pressure on late in regulation, however. Zac Scaffidi put a header on net in the 80th minute that Schwarz stopped. One minute later, Valpo got called for a foul just outside the box, giving the Spartans a free kick from 20 yards away. Reiman fired the free kick directly at the net, and the ball looked destined for the right-hand portion of the net before a diving Schwarz corralled it.
Less than 30 seconds later, Dave Hertel put another shot on goal for Michigan State that Schwarz had to sprawl out to save. The Spartans would register two more shots and receive four corner kicks in the waning moments of regulation, but no more opportunities would find their way on net as the match went into overtime.
“Schwarz has been amazing all year long,” said Avery. “The most exciting thing is that he’s getting better every day. I think he’s not even close to reaching his potential yet.”
Relatively few scoring chances presented themselves in the two overtime sessions, as Michigan State took just four shots and Valpo had just one. Schwarz only needed to make one save in the final 20 minutes to preserve the tie for the Crusaders.
Michigan State (10-1-3) ended the game with 22 shots, nine of which were on goal, to Valpo’s seven, two of which made their way on frame. Schwarz ended the match with eight saves, while Austin needed to make just the one stop for the Spartans. MSU also took 19 corner kicks to two for Valpo. The Crusaders were called for 11 offsides violations versus one for Michigan State.
“The great thing about soccer is that the only number that really matters is goals,” said Avery. “While they had a lot of shots and corner kicks, I thought everything we trained on over these past 12 days showed today. Our block of eight did a solid job keeping Michigan State out of the box for the most part and forcing a lot of their shots from distance.”
For Valparaiso (3-8-3), it marks the second consecutive time the Crusaders have earned a positive result when hosting a ranked team in Valpo, dating back to Sept. 13, 2002, when they earned a 2-1 victory over then-#22 Wisconsin. The Crusaders now focus their sights on a fight for Horizon League Championship seeding as they close out the regular season with three straight league matches, beginning with a game next Sunday, Oct. 28 at Wright State. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. CDT.