Joe Podelco / Lantern photographer
The Ohio State men’s soccer team will take on conference opponent Penn State this weekend in what the team calls a “must-win” game.
Penn State is the first of the final three conference opponents for the Buckeyes, and head coach John Bluem said that with the current Big Ten standings, OSU needs a victory this weekend to stay in contention in the conference.
“It’s huge. Where we sit right now at 2-1 and Indiana is already 3-1 and Wisconsin is 3-0,” Bluem said. “If we go 2-2 and our remaining games are at Indiana and Wisconsin, that makes it very tough.”
Penn State enters the contest 6-6-2 overall, but is winless in Big Ten play at 0-4. The Buckeyes are not taking their opponent lightly, though.
“We know Penn State’s a good team,” said junior forward Chris Hegngi. “They’ve been a little unfortunate with some of their results in their previous games.”
The Nittany Lions lost each of their four conference matches by one goal.
“They are one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten, if not the country this year,” Bluem said. “So they are going to present a challenge for us because it’s going to be very hard to score against them.”
Bluem said his team must play quickly and move the ball intelligently to sustain attacks and create good scoring chances.
“We are focusing on our practices this week leading up to that game,” Hegngi said. “We’re working really hard preparing ourselves mentally and getting ourselves ready.”
The Buckeyes had a week to rest after battling to a scoreless tie against Valparaiso last Sunday.
“It’s kind of a long time to think about things, but it’s a good opportunity for those who get a few injuries over the weekend to rest and rejuvenate,” Hegngi said. “You can see (the break) as a positive, for sure.”
Chris Hegngi’s brother, senior midfielder Parnell Hegngi, reiterated that the team’s hopes of winning the conference title hang in the balance this weekend.
“If we want to achieve our goals of winning the Big Ten and then hopefully winning the Big Ten tournament, we must win, given the standings,” Parnell Hegngi said. “We have to handle our business, especially being a home game.”
Bluem said the team must take the remainder of the schedule one week at a time, but a win this weekend is vital.
“We need this one to put ourselves at 3-1,” Bluem said. “Whoever wins (next week) at Wisconsin basically eliminates the other one from consideration for the Big Ten championship. But that’s if we beat Penn State.”
The game will kick off Sunday at 2 p.m. in Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.