- James Coller/Daily
By John Kopko, For the Daily
Published October 30, 2013
The last time the Michigan men’s soccer team clashed with Akron, in 2012, a trip to the third round of the NCAA Tournament was on the line. The Zips were undefeated on their home turf, and the Wolverines had won six of their last seven.
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Then, Michigan’s Colin McAtee was shown a red card after kicking Akron’s Robbie Derschang in the head. The Zips took a two-goal lead and held off a late charge by the Wolverines to send the visitors back to Ann Arbor empty handed.
The last time Akron came to Ann Arbor, in 2011, it was ranked fourth in the nation. Michigan midfielder Latif Alashe scored a stunning overtime goal to shock to Zips and propel the Wolverines to a 1-0 victory.
The recent history between the teams has developed into nothing less than a rivalry.
“For sure, it is 100 percent (a rivalry). This isn’t a rivalry like Ohio State and Michigan State,” said junior captain Tyler Arnone. “This is a respectful rivalry (because) we know two good teams are going toe-to-toe with each other.”
The setting was similar on Wednesday — a calm, clear night in Ann Arbor. Michigan (3-2-0 Big Ten, 7-4-3 overall) came into the game riding a three-game home win streak. Meanwhile, No. 17 Akron (4-1-0 Mid-American Conference, 11-3-1) was undefeated in its last five contests.
Both teams fielded freshmen who did not take part in the tournament showdown the previous season, or the stunning upset the year before that.
But fresh faces didn’t help the Wolverines, and for the second meeting in a row, Akron defeated Michigan, 2-1.
The Zips’ offense started the game fast, displaying well-timed runs and well-placed crosses. In the fifth minute, Akron freshman midfielder Adam Najem found space outside the box and curled a shot over the fingertips of the Wolverines keeper, redshirt junior Adam Grinwis, rattling off the crossbar and bouncing away.
For Michigan the score line was eerily similar to last year’s loss in the NCAA Tournament — a physical battle, a relentless Akron attack and a commanding performance by the Zips.
“If you look at Michigan-Akron in the past five or six years, the games weren’t really even close with regards to quality of play,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “Last year, they dominated us.”
The Michigan offense finally kicked into gear only in the closing minutes of the first half. With 33 seconds left, senior defender Ezekiel Harris collected a loose ball at the top of the box following a set piece and drove a low volley into the corner of the net to bring the Wolverines within a goal.
The second half brought out a rejuvenated Wolverine offense. In the first 10 minutes, Michigan put pressure on the Zips’ defense. Aggressive play generated three quick shots and a corner, but the Wolverines failed to capitalize on their chances.
As the clock ticked away, most of the possession for both teams came in the middle third of the field. The teams swapped shots and scoring opportunities, but good defending and goalkeeper play kept the score at 2-1.
The physicality of the rivalry continued to heat up as Michigan desperately searched for an equalizer.
In the 77th minute, McAtee went hard into a tackle and knocked Najem to the turf. In a scene similar to last season’s meeting, McAtee was shown a card and players on both sides had to be restrained as words were exchanged. Less than two minutes later, Akron defenseman Saad Abdul-Salaam was shown a card for bringing down a Michigan defender.
With less than 10 minutes to play in the half, the Wolverine attack began to pressure the Zips’ back line again. In the 85th minute, McAtee got his head on a cross and directed the ball toward an open goal. The ball clipped the bottom of the crossbar and was cleared away by the Akron defense.
The Wolverines still would not go away. In the 90th minute, the Akron goalkeeper slipped as he attempted a clearance, and the ball skipped right to Michigan’s leading scorer, James Murphy. Murphy fired a shot, but his attempt was weak and the Zips’ keeper caught the ball to seal the Wolverines fate.
“Even though we came out on the wrong side of the result tonight, I still felt it was a good game,” Arnone said.
To Daley, the growing history between the two soccer programs signifies the level of play that Michigan soccer wants to be at.
“We’re aspiring to be on (Akron’s) level on a consistent basis. They put it all together for longer stretches than we did,” Daley said. “That’s part of their culture, and that’s the culture we’re trying to create here amongst Michigan soccer.”