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On men's soccer: The "divine plan" — Blue in the College Cup

Jake Fromm/Daily
Freshman midfielder Fabio Pereira Villas Boas (10) scores the golden goal against Maryland in the second period of overtime in an Elite Eight game of the NCAA tournament in College Park on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010. Michigan won with a golden goal in the second overtime period. Buy this photo

BY ZACH HELFAND
Daily Sports Writer
Published December 5, 2010

Sixteen minutes into the Michigan men’s soccer quarterfinal on Saturday, Maryland forward Casey Townsend spun around at the top of the box and kicked the ball out of the air into the left corner of the Michigan goal. Wolverine fans were harshly reminded of a fact that they had been trying to ignore all week:

Maryland is really freakin’ good.

The matchup against one of college soccer’s most storied programs, in the midst of one of its most dominant seasons to date, was obviously Michigan’s greatest challenge all season.

“But the Wolverines are the Big Ten champions,” I thought. They’ve got the “Three Amigos” of Justin Meram, Hamoody Saad, and Soony Saad — the best freshman in the country — and they haven’t lost a game since mid-October. The Terps can’t have that much more talent, can they?

They could. And they left no doubt about that with their first half assault of goalkeeper Chris Blais and the Michigan goal.

Maryland outplayed Michigan for much of the game and outshot the Wolverines, 33-18. Granted, Soony Saad and Justin Meram missed a few opportunities early on that, had they converted, would have put Michigan up 2-1 at the half.

By the same logic, though, Maryland could have easily held a three-goal advantage — if not more — going into the break.

But these Wolverines just have "it" — that elusive, unquantifiable, winning quality. Let’s be clear, Michigan had little business winning the game. That fact, though, is exactly what makes this team so special. Some unknown force that I frankly cannot describe always seems to put Michigan in position to win.

And that is not a knock on the team. In fact, I mean it more as a compliment. Good teams find ways to win games and Michigan is a very good team. One that is certainly finding ways to win.

The loss had Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski, in his 18th year, searching for answers as to how his team lost what he called “the most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking loss … in my career.”

“It was not part of the divine plan this year for us to beat teams from Michigan,” Cirovski said. Maryland’s season was bookended by an opening loss to Michigan State and the loss to Michigan on Saturday. The team’s only other loss all year came against North Carolina, the fourth seed in the tournament.

Even Michigan coach Steve Burns got a little spiritual, referencing answered prayers after the game.

Now, I’m not a believer in divine plans, prayers or rally monkeys affecting soccer matches. But even I have to admit that there is something special about a team that believes in itself like the Michigan soccer team does.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what this group is: a team that has been tested in late-game situations, a team with an enormous amount of confidence, a team that knows how to execute when it matters. It’s a team that knows what it takes to win.

And in the postseason, especially in soccer, that can be incredibly dangerous.

So bring on Akron. Who cares that it beat Michigan 7-1 earlier in the season? If the Wolverines have taught us anything through their postseason run, it's that what matters is not how you start a season or a game, but how you finish.

Maybe Akron is a more talented team. Maybe it should beat Michigan.

But maybe the Akron faithful will be reminded of the very same thing Maryland fans had ignored all week:

This Michigan team just wins.


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