MSU’s season ends with rout in national semifinal
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.
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.
Atlanta United have been drawing record-setting crowds in their two seasons. A crowd of in excess of 70,000 is expected tonight.