The Michigan men”s soccer team will take the field on Sunday afternoon in East Lansing against archrival Michigan State with more on the line than meets the eye.
First and foremost, the Wolverines will be attempting to even their Big Ten record at 2-2 on the year, as they try to improve their position for the Big Ten Tournament to be held Nov. 8-10 in Madison. In addition to that, there is the battle for control of the state, as Michigan hopes to convince all potential in-state recruits that the true local soccer power resides in Ann Arbor.
“Every recruit looks at the score of this game,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “We want to make sure that we bring in the very best and brightest athletes from our state, and a win in this game would help us say that we are the better team.”
The two teams boast a combined total of 33 players from the state of Michigan 19 on Michigan State”s roster and 14 for Michigan. Along with the general rivalry between the two schools, it took no time for this game to become an important one on both team”s schedule.
Last year”s meeting the first matchup since Michigan”s soccer team gained varsity status was an epic battle. In front of a Michigan record crowd of 2,173, the two teams traded blows all game until the Spartans notched the game-winner on an own goal meaning a Wolverine player inadvertently knocked the ball into the Michigan net in the 106th minute of play to record the 2-1, double-overtime triumph. Michigan State thus became the first owner of the traveling trophy given to the winner of the in-state game.
“I had the idea for the traveling trophy because it really gave us something to play for against Michigan State right out of the gate,” Burns said. “The rivalry is 100 percent intact we know the significance of this game.”
Burns” biggest worry for this week, though, was trying to force his players to avoid looking past tonight”s home game against Bowling Green. The Falcons shut out Michigan 2-0 in the 2000 campaign, and will be looking to repeat the feat. Add in the fact that Michigan will play without leading defender Kevin Taylor, who was red-carded late in last Sunday”s loss to Indiana, and the Wolverines have a difficult task waiting.
“One of the goals is to get our players to know that this Bowling Green team wants to beat us,” Burns said. “They beat us badly last year, and we really need to focus.”
As important as a win against Bowling Green would be for this year”s Michigan team, there is little doubt that a win over Michigan State would help the future of the program more.
“Right now, Michigan State has more kids on their team that opted to play there because we weren”t able to make a good enough offer to them for whatever reason,” Burns said.
“But for their bunch of guys and for the few on our team that State couldn”t bring in, there”s always that drive to play well so you can sort of say to the other team “You made a mistake letting me go.””