Illinois soccer drops Big Ten opener versus Michigan State following second half collapse

Senior+defense+Eileen+Murphy+dribbles+the+ball+away+from+a+Missouri+opponent+during+the+first+half+on+Sept.+9.+The+Illini+fall+to+Michigan+State%2C+3-0%2C+on+Sunday.+

Sidney Malone

Senior defense Eileen Murphy dribbles the ball away from a Missouri opponent during the first half on Sept. 9. The Illini fall to Michigan State, 3-0, on Sunday.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

In spite of the positive season they’ve had up to this point, the Illini’s opening Big Ten match did not go to plan. Illinois soccer suffered defeat to Michigan State on Sunday afternoon at Demirjian Park to start the conference 0-1.

The Spartans also ended a long drought with the victory, claiming their first win over the Illini since 2002. It was a day to forget for Illinois, who struggled to match the intensity of its opponent’s play, particularly late in the game.

“We got outworked,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “We have to look, as a coaching staff, at why we weren’t really physically and mentally prepared to play at the Big Ten level.”

Kickoff in Champaign began with an extremely action-packed start to the game. Illinois was given a serious wake up call in the fifth minute as Michigan State managed to work the ball close to goal before missing just to the left from a tight angle.

While the Spartans had the ball during much of the first half, the Illini still managed to muster chances, including a long-ranged strike by junior midfielder Kennedy Berschel in the seventh minute that soared just over the bar.

Junior goalkeeper Julia Cili was a standout player for Illinois on Sunday, making seven saves over the course of the match. One of these came in the ninth minute as a Spartan shot to the lower left corner forced a great save out of Cili.

In the 13th minute, senior defender Eileen Murphy nearly broke the deadlock in spectacular fashion after unleashing a powerful volley just over the goal. The volley was struck well by Murphy, who was unafraid to take the chance from well outside the box.

Cili was put to the test once again in the 15th minute after the Spartans managed to split the Illini backline with a through ball. The junior goalkeeper did well to come forward and pulled off a crucial one-on-one stop to keep the match scoreless.

Illinois had a great opportunity in the 20th minute as junior forward Julia Eichenbaum found herself in plenty of space on the right wing. Eichenbaum drove the ball forward and beat a defender, but had her shot land safely in the arms of the Spartan keeper due to the tight angle.

The rest of the half saw Cili making stop after stop against the Spartans, who controlled the ball during large stretches of the first half. In the final 10 minutes Illinois became dangerous, greatly increasing the work rate and pressing high in search of a goal. No breakthrough would be found, however, with the halftime score reading 0-0.

The second half would see the Illini fall apart from the very start. In the 47th minute, Michigan State played a through ball that beat Illinois’ backline, with Lauren DeBeau managing to collect the ball and dribble Cili and slot the ball into the back of the net. Illinois 0-1 Michigan State.

Only a couple minutes later in the 51st minute, DeBeau struck again after finishing a driven cross into the Illini box. Michigan State came out of the break with an intensity that Illinois could not match, and after only six minutes the deficit was already at two. The creative spark the Illini found in the final stretch of the first half was diminished. Illinois 0-2 Michigan State.

DeBeau and the Spartans weren’t finished, with the forward completing her hat trick in the 58th minute. After picking up the ball in the box, DeBeau drilled a rocket into the top of the net. A stunned Illini team could only watch as the unstoppable shot barrelled past Cili. Illinois 0-3 Michigan State.

The rest of the match saw minimal chances for the Illini. While junior forward Makala Woods nearly got Illinois on the board in the 80th minute following a long range strike, the shot sailed just wide right of the post.

Michigan State were still looking for a fourth goal and nearly found it in the 84th minute. A Spartan corner kick saw the ball land in the Illini box and nearly get slotted in if it weren’t for a goal line clearance by senior defender Aleah Treiterer. However, with the clock winding down the game was already well and truly finished. Final score: Illinois 0, Michigan State 3.

“I just told them in the huddle that it’s a different game,” Rayfield said. “Everything we’ve done all season long has to step up a level and we didn’t do that today. We’re certainly capable of doing that, and if we weren’t capable, I wouldn’t be disappointed, but I’m disappointed because we’re capable of much better than we showed today.”

Turnovers plagued the Illini’s game on Sunday, with sloppy passes and poor touches giving the Spartans increased possession over the ball. Simply put, Illinois was unable to deal with Michigan State’s intense pressure.

“We gotta take better care of the ball,” Rayfield said. “We can’t be turning the ball over in dangerous areas and giving them opportunities when we’re not in a good defensive position.”

Illinois (5-3-1 overall, 0-1 B1G) will be on the road for the first time in September as it takes on Maryland (2-1-5 overall, 1-0 B1G) in College Park. The Illini will be searching for their first conference victory to gain some momentum in the Big Ten.

 

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