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Men’s soccer preview: Formation changes as optimism brews

Paul Sherman/Daily
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By Minh Doan, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 27, 2014

The Michigan men's soccer team's expectations remain the same every season. Whether it was the 2010 run to the Final Four or last season 8-7-3 overall record when the Wolverines were bounced in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, the goal of making the NCAA Tournament has changed.

This year, the only change is the formation

“Instead of the typical 4-4-2, which we've typical played, or a 4-5-1,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “We’re going to, hopefully, be a little more offensive minded and play a 4-3-3.”

After scoring 22 goals all season — ranked 123rd in the nation — the new formation will give the Wolverines a numerical advantage in the offensive third of the field, as they look to put more goals in the back of the net.

Michigan will also welcome the No. 2 recruiting class to Ann Arbor, which should only complement a team that lostjust two starters.

Two fifth-year seniors, midfielder Tyler Arnone and goalkeeper Adam Grinwis, come back to captain the team for another season. The duo held a camp led by captains three weeks prior to the season to not only get a head start, but also help younger players acclimated with campus and used to the pace of college soccer.

And for the Wolverines, how well the older and younger players mesh together will determine their success. They will get their first crack at it Friday against Florida International followed by Southern Methodist on Sunday to open the season.

And with that, the Daily breaks down the 2014 season, position by position.

Goalkeepers:

Grinwis returns to the Michigan net, looking to replicate the performance that earned him Big Ten Second Team honors last season. But Grinwis will be pushed for playing time by freshman goalkeeper Evan Louro, who was the second-ranked goalkeeper in the 2014 class.

Louro comes from the heralded New York Red Bulls Academy, and will have experience playing against competition from around the world with the U-20 U.S. National Team when he lines up for the Wolverines.

In the three preseason games, the two goalkeepers split time in goal and will continue to fight for playing time, day in and day out.

Defenders:

With the loss of defender Ezekiel Harris to graduation, the defense will depend on the sophomore trio of defenders — Rylee Woods, Andre Morris and Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection Lars Eckenrode — to keep the ball out of the Wolverine goal.

But while the trio played in a majority of the games last season, they are still only in their second year with the program, and Daley will look to the experience of redshirt senior Nick Lewin and senior Ben Manko to lead the group to success.

The defenders will be the least effected in the new formation, but will needed to pick up slack should opponents get behind the midfield line.

Midfielders:

While the other three positions will mix underclassmen and upperclassmen, the group of midfielders is dominated by veteran presences, which starts with Arnone.

Expected to be Daley's anchor in the midfield, Arnone is the type of midfielder willing to run from box to box. His physicality paid off with nine points last season. Combined with his efforts to get back on defense and make tackles, Arnone was named the Big Ten Midfielder of the Year. Daley will look to Arnone to anchor the midfield.

Senior midfielder Marcos Ugarte and junior forward James Murphy should also see plenty of time this season. Ugarte, who was oft injured in 2013, has been commended by Daley for being dangerous on set pieces and will be a key cog to the midfield machine if he can stay healthy. Murphy, Michigan’s leading scorer last season, will try to use his experience as a two-year starter to slide down to midfield to help the Wolverines.

In a 4-3-3 formation, the midfielders will often be outnumbered, and therefore, must be fit enough to not only withstand attacks, but get up into the attacking third.

Forwards:

After a poor offensive showing in 2013, the Wolverines were given a huge jolt with junior forward William Mellors-Blair and freshman forward Ahinga Selemani.

Melllors-Blair, a transfer from Georgia State, will provide speed on the wings, a necessity in the 4-3-3 formation, while Selemani will provide clinical finishing and speed up top.

Selemani has already struck for the Wolverines. In the last preseason game of the season against No. 14 Louisville, Selemani finished a breakaway to push Michigan to a 1-0 victory.

Along with the returns of redshirt junior midfielder Colin McAtee and senior midfielder TJ VanSlooten on the wings, as well as Murphy up top, it should be easier to score this season.

The change is already expected to pay off as the Wolverines were selected to take third in the Big Ten preseason poll. But much like Michigan's expectations, Daley never changes his stance on taking the season one game at a time.