After being unbeatable most of the season, the Penn State men’s soccer team is suddenly vulnerable and struggling.
The Nittany Lions are trying to stay calm and learn from their misfortune.
Michigan State handed Penn State its second straight loss with a pair of first-half goals for a 2-1 Spartan win at Jeffrey Field on Saturday night.
Just a week earlier, the Nittany Lions were the nation’s only remaining undefeated team, posting nine shutouts and had surrendered just three goals all season.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Centre Daily Times
Now No. 12 Penn State (10-2-1, 4-2 Big Ten) is on a two-game losing streak, having been outscored 6-0.
“Everybody goes through tough stretches one way or another in sport or in life,” coach Bob Warming said. “Now’s when your character gets tested a little bit, you know?”
Jason Stacy and Jay Chapman scored the goals for the No. 16 Spartans (9-2-2, 3-1-1), while Zach Bennett made five saves for the shutout on the chilly, breezy evening.
After racking up eight shutouts earlier in the year, keeper Andrew Wolverton surrendered two goals and made two saves in the loss.
Even with these struggles, the senior keeper knows there is no reason to panic. He said this isn’t the first time the Nittany Lions have had a tough stretch of games during his career, and the team should use it as an educational experience.
“We’re positive about it, as best as that can be,” Wolverton said. “There’s a lot of things that we can learn that will make us better, really. I think that’s the biggest thing, just taking those and working on the things we aren’t doing as well these last few games and getting back into it.”
Something Warming would like to see learned is what led to the game’s first goal, which followed what Maryland used to beat Penn State last Sunday 4-0, when too many Lions dropped back deep on defense.
On a corner kick in the 21 st minute, Dewey Lewis sent the ball to outside the near corner of the penalty box. Left unmarked, Stacy took a step and launched a rocket through a maze of players to the back of the net.
“One of the big problems we had at Maryland was we didn’t get out and challenge at the top of the 18,” Warming said. “Everybody stayed in and it screened the goalkeeper. We showed video, talked about it and everything else, and unfortunately it was exactly the same thing that happened again. The kid hit a nice shot, but no one came out to close (on) the ball.”
Wolverton said he could not see the ball at all until it was practically past him.
“It was a good play that they ran, honestly,” Wolverton said. “We just kind of got caught off guard and just didn’t get out quick enough. Those things just happen.”
About five minutes later the lead was doubled when Adam Montague found a little space in the middle of the Penn State defense, sent the ball between a pair of Lions to Chapman and as Wolverton came out to challenge the play the junior touched the ball into the open net.
Even with more than 60 minutes of action left, and a 12-6 shot advantage, the Nittany Lions were limited in their attempts to scratch back into the game.
There were a few good shots that sailed high or wide — or found Bennett — and Penn State did generate an 11-2 advantage in corner kicks, but the Lions could not deliver too much pressure when they got close to the final 18 yards.
“When you take a long time to build the ball up, it allows them to get nine players behind the ball,” said Warming, whose team faces West Virginia on Wednesday. “Things get a little tight when you’ve got a bunch of bodies in there. We were poor in our transition game today. … There were too many times when we won it, we ended up passing the ball back, and then we ended up passing another ball square and that allowed them to get back behind the ball. We were very poor in transition today.”