EVANSTON — “It wasn’t much of a soccer game,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley.
From kickoff to the second that Michigan State freshman midfielder Sean Conerty struck the game-winning goal to give the Spartans a 2-1 overtime victory on Sunday in the Big Ten Tournament Final, the wind coming from Lake Michigan at Lakeside Field was relentless.
Michigan State and Mother Nature beat up on the Michigan men’s soccer team for much of the 97-minute Big Ten Tournament final. The Spartans’ scoring chances were sometimes sporadic, but the 30-40 mile per hour winds consistently affeted each team’s game plan.
“It was just as hard to play with the wind as it was to play against it,” Daley said. “You couldn’t get into a rhythm.”
The Wolverines (3-2-1 Big Ten, 10-9-1 overall) came into the match riding a five-game winning streak and were looking to put a cap on their remarkable run in the Big Ten Tournament. But Michigan State (3-3, 11-9-1) had aspirations of its own to snag an automatic NCAA Tournament bid from Michigan’s grasp, as it prevailed through a heated rivalry game and the forceful winds to finally crack the Wolverines’ defense.
In the 38th minute the Spartans’ leading scorer, sophomore forward Adam Montague, hit a laser past redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Adam Grinwis. The tally marked the first goal Grinwis and the Michigan defense have allowed in 260 minutes of play, dating back to Oct. 30.
With five minutes to play and the ball in Michigan’s defensive third of the field, the Michigan State fans were as loud as ever as they began to count down to a Big Ten title.
But junior forward T.J. Roehn, an All-Big Ten tournament selection, silenced the fans as he tied the game with three minutes left, igniting the Michigan sideline. After the late goal, a few Spartans laid on the field stunned as they watched their rivals celebrate. The NCAA tournament bid was back on the table for either team to grasp after Roehn’s deflection trickled past freshman goalkeeper Zach Bennett.
But in overtime, the Spartans won the coin toss to give them a crucial advantage with the wind at their backs. The evident determination, and quite possibly the coin toss, eventually earned Michigan State a Big Ten Championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.
“The boys are disappointed and it’s very difficult for me,” Daley said. “They got the goals and we didn’t.”
It was a heartbreaking defeat — Michigan’s seniors tried to fight back tears next to their families and Daley remained in the same spot next to the bench for nearly 20 minutes following the match.
But the Wolverines may have done enough to get another shot at the NCAA Tournament, and that’s all Michigan can hope for now.
“If the national committee blesses us with another chance and we can get in the NCAA Tournament, that’d be great,” Daley said. “We want to end the season where we can say we’ve done enough. We’ve gotten to a point where we want to end on a successful note so we’ll wait and see if we can do that.”