Men’s Soccer Preparing To Face Michigan In Big Ten Quarterfinals

Penn State men’s soccer (6-8-2, 3-3-2 Big Ten) travels to Ann Arbor Sunday to face Michigan (10-4-2, 4-4-2 Big Ten) at 1 p.m. in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.

The two sides battled to a 1-1 draw after double overtime earlier this season, and enter the tournament with Penn State seeded sixth and Michigan seeded third. Sunday’s winner will move on to a semifinal match against Indiana, Ohio State, or Northwestern depending on the results of earlier matches.

Michigan finished its season on a high note with a double overtime draw against rival Michigan State and a 2-1 win against fifth-seed Maryland in College Park. Defeating the Wolverines on the road will be a difficult task for the Nittany Lions, who dropped their final two regular season away matches to Maryland and James Madison. To notch an upset victory and extend its season, Penn State will rely on several individual performers and a collective effort to stifle Michigan’s midfield maestro Jack Hallahan.

Jeremy Rafanello and Ethan Beckford

Freshmen Jeremy Rafanello and Ethan Beckford occupy the striker and left wing positions in Jeff Cook’s 4-2-3-1 formation, and have contributed five of Penn State’s 17 total goals this season. Rafanello’s intelligent, darting runs provide an outlet for his teammates under pressure, and put him into good crossing and shooting positions. Beckford’s furious dribbling runs that often end in a curling right-footed shot from the left cause problems for opposing defenses. Both frequently draw free kicks in the attacking third, allowing Aaron Molloy to serve dangerous crosses to their aerially dominant teammates.

The fast forward duo will spark Penn State’s counter attacks against a solid Michigan backline, and will likely be tasked with finishing the valuable opportunities the Nittany Lions create. Michigan may dictate the pace of play on Sunday — Beckford and Rafanello’s forward runs and finishing can provide valuable relief to Penn State’s solid but stretched backline. 

Midfield, Backline vs. Jack Hallahan

Penn State’s defensive midfielders and backline will be tasked with stifling Jack Hallahan — the Wolverines’ center attacking midfielder and sometimes forward who scored against the Nittany Lions earlier this season. The Redditch, England native ties Umar Farouk Osman at the top of Michigan’s scoring stats sheet with seven goals. He’s the creative force that drives Michigan’s attack, and Jeff Cook’s two defensive midfielders — most likely Callum Pritchatt and Aaron Molloy — will need to coordinate with center backs Dani Marks and Brandon Hackenberg to stifle his influence.

Another Standout Performance From Josh Levine

Penn State’s sophomore shot stopper plays well in crucial knockout matches. He recorded an impressive 13 save against fifth-ranked Indiana last season, and his seven-save performance against Northwestern last month preserved a shutout for the Nittany Lions. Levine and the Penn State backline have allowed a stingy .94 goals per game this season thanks to their experience and the goalkeeper’s acrobatic reliability.

Against Hallahan, Osman, and the rest of the Michigan offense in Ann Arbor, he’ll need to be at his best to secure a semifinal spot for the Nittany Lions. His four saves against Michigan earlier in the season secured a point for the Nittany Lions, but he’ll likely face more shots under the pressure of playoff soccer.

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About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is a junior English and history major and the features editor for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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