Sophomore goalkeeper Adam Grinwis and junior midfielder Fabio Pereira watched from the sidelines when the Michigan men’s soccer team made the College Cup in 2010. This season, they’re creating some magic of their own.
Pereira scored all three Michigan goals and Grinwis led a dominant defensive effort on Thursday night, propelling the Wolverines to a 3-1 victory over Niagara in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Michigan (5-3-1 Big Ten, 11-9-1 overall) will next face fifth-seeded Akron, a rematch of an Oct. 18 match that the Zips won, 1-0.
But the Wolverine squad that dominated the Purple Eagles is far improved from the one that struggled mightily in the beginning of the season. Michigan commanded every aspect of play against Niagara (8-1-1 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, 13-2-4), outshooting the Purple Eagles 26-7 and controlling possession for most of the match. The Wolverines were so powerful on offense that Pereira actually found it harder to score goals.
“We had so much space in that game,” Pereira said. “I think we were even shocked with how much space we had. Having 16 shots (in the first half) and not scoring a goal — I think that’s pretty bad.”
Just four days after dropping the Big Ten Championship to Michigan State, Michigan had revenge on its mind against Niagara and it showed. The Wolverines opened the first half on a tear, creating a one-on-one opportunity in the opening moments that forced goalkeeper Brett Petricek to make a key save. The senior was busy for the entire half, recording seven saves that kept the match scoreless when the halftime whistle blew.
“We’re incredibly fortunate to have Brett Petricek representing Niagara,” said Niagara coach Chase Brooks. “Brett’s been absolutely fantastic for us all season.”
Michigan’s torrid attack led to the Purple Eagles’ only goal of the game. When the Wolverines pushed defensive players forward to try to capitalize on a free kick, Petricek smothered the set-piece shot. He then started a quick counterattack that ended with Niagara’s go-ahead tally.
But Michigan kept pressuring and, eventually, the goals came.
“It was a nervy game for us having as many chances as we did and not converting them,” Michigan coach Chaka Daley said. “That’s football sometimes.”
Pereira tallied a stunning three goals — two on penalty kicks — in seven minutes to put the game out of reach midway through the second half. When Daley sent in his substitutes with under five minute left in the match, the midfielder received a standing ovation from the crowd.
“It’s fantastic to get a hat trick,” Pereira said. “Now I just can’t wait (until) Sunday.”
After Pereira’s goals gave the Wolverines a two-goal lead, Grinwis and the defense took over. Though it allowed a goal on Niagara’s first shot on target, the unit limited the Purple Eagles to just two more attempts on net.
But Grinwis still had plenty of work to do. On each of Niagara’s five corner kicks, it placed 6-foot-6 striker Callum Willmott in front of Michigan’s goalkeeper. Grinwis — four inches shorter — commanded his box well, punching away crosses and preventing Willmott from redirecting a single header on goal.
“The more games you play, the more mature you get,” Grinwis said. “I’m just doing my best to help my team win games. I think we’ve been superb (defensively).”
Most of all, Grinwis and Pereira are looking forward to leaving their own legacies at Michigan. After watching their former teammates complete a string of upsets in the NCAA Tournament two years ago that ended with a loss to Akron in the College Cup, the young stars are ready to lead their squad to similar glory.
“In college soccer you don’t get a better chance than … going at Akron to send a statement to the whole country,” Pereira said. “We’re really confident. We’re a totally different (than) when we played them last time. We’re all hungry for that game.”