MSU’s sea­son ends with rout in na­tional semi­fi­nal

The Detroit News - - Sports - BY JORGE MER­CADO Spe­cial to The Detroit News

Santa Bar­bara, Calif. — Fri­day night Michi­gan State’s first ap­pear­ance in the Col­lege Cup in 50 years.

It also marked the end of the road for the Spar­tans’ men’s soc­cer team, which was dom­i­nated by Akron, 5-1, in the first semi­fi­nal.

The Spar­tans (14-5-4) started off ag­gres­sively pres­sur­ing the Zips on de­fense. Akron (15-6-2) is known for its tech­ni­cal game style, and in­stead of sit­ting back in their own half, Michi­gan State opted to push de­fend­ers onto the Zips’ side of the field in or­der to dis­rupt them.

The down­side: con­stant gaps left in Michi­gan State’s side of the pitch. In the 15th minute, the Zips took ad­van­tage. Zips mid­fielder Skye Harter took the ball up the left side of the pitch and sent in a float­ing cross just past the out­stretched arms of Michi­gan State goal­keeper Jimmy Hague to wide-open mid­fielder Morga Hack­worth.

Hack­worth headed the ball off the top right post, but Zips star for­ward David Egbo was there to clean it up, blast­ing the ball into the up­per right cor­ner and into the back of the net for his 13th goal of the sea­son in the 16th minute.

The Spar­tans re­grouped quickly and had their best op­por­tu­nity of the game just five min­utes later as for­ward Hunter Barone re­ceived a deep out­let pass from brother Giuseppe Barone, putting him one-onone with Akron’s goal­keeper. But he couldn’t con­vert.

Missed op­por­tu­ni­ties would come back to bite the Spar­tans as Akron ex­tended its lead to 2-0 in the 32nd minute fol­low­ing a header from the Zips’ Carlo Ri­tac­cio off a cor­ner kick from team­mate Colin Biros.

Akron con­tin­ues the pres­sure in the sec­ond half, adding two more goals be­fore Michi­gan State fi­nally knocked in a goal in the 79th minute. De­fender Pa­trick Nielsen slot­ted a high­arch­ing cor­ner by mid­fielder Jack Beck into the bot­tom right cor­ner of the goal for his first goal of the NCAA Tour­na­ment.

The Zips an­swered back on a Braden Petno header six min­utes later.

Akron moved on to Sun­day’s cham­pi­onship, to play the win­ner of Fri­day night’s In­di­anaMary­land match.

At­lanta nears MLS ti­tle

At­lanta, a city that has known plenty of sport­ing heart­break, is one win from a ti­tle. It sure has been a while.

At­lanta hasn’t won a ma­jor pro­fes­sional ti­tle since the Braves cap­tured the 1995 World Se­ries. A 2-year-old soc­cer team has a chance to end the drought when At­lanta United hosts the Port­land Tim­bers in the MLS Cup fi­nal tonight be­fore an ex­pected crowd of 73,000 at Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium.

“I was tex­ting the mayor the other evening,” United owner Arthur Blank said. “She’s al­ready

planned on a pa­rade, so she’s ahead of me. We haven’t a pa­rade in At­lanta, a sports-re­lated pa­rade, since 1995. God will­ing and play will­ing, we’ll be in po­si­tion to do that again.”

The Braves are rec­og­nized by many as At­lanta’s only true sports cham­pi­ons — and even their ac­com­plish­ment came with a gi­ant caveat. The team won an un­prece­dented 14 straight divi­sion ti­tles, but be­came known mostly for its post­sea­son fail­ures, los­ing four times in the World Se­ries and ev­ery other year but one in the ear­lier play­off rounds.

Blank was on hand for per­haps the city’s big­gest dis­ap­point­ment. He also owns the NFL Fal­cons, who reached the Su­per Bowl for just the sec­ond time in fran­chise his­tory in 2016, only to squan­der a 25point lead late in the third quar­ter. The Patriots ral­lied for a 3428 vic­tory in over­time.

Gar­ber speaks

In his an­nual state of the league ad­dress lead­ing up to the MLS Cup fi­nal, com­mis­sioner Don Gar­ber sig­naled a new play­off for­mat next sea­son. A likely change is from two-legged se­ries in the con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals and fi­nals to a to­tal knock­out for­mat hosted by teams with the bet­ter record. That prob­a­bly would move the MLS Cup back to Novem­ber.

Gar­ber also said At­lanta and the Seat­tle Sounders, both of which share large sta­di­ums with NFL teams, have given the league rea­son to look be­yond its nor­mal model of want­ing teams with soc­cer-only sta­di­ums that seat around 20,000.

MLS is plan­ning a 27 th team in Austin, Texas, which was ini­tially set to be the new home of the Columbus Crew. MLS is work­ing to fi­nal­ize a deal with the Haslem fam­ily, which owns the NFL’s Cleve­land Browns, that would keep a team in Ohio’s cap­i­tal city and lead to a new down­town sta­dium .

Gar­ber said MLS is likely to grant a 28th in the next year. St. Louis, Phoenix, Detroit and Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia, are among the con­tenders.

Who­ever is left out in this round of ex­pan­sion might not have to wait long for an­other shot at a fran­chise. Gar­ber said he ex­pects the owners to be­gin dis­cussing the fea­si­bil­ity of tak­ing the league be­yond a 28team align­ment.

Brett Davis/As­so­ci­ated Press

At­lanta United have been draw­ing record-set­ting crowds in their two sea­sons. A crowd of in ex­cess of 70,000 is ex­pected tonight.

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