By Steven Braid, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 11, 2012
If the Michigan women’s soccer team had a nickel for every scoring opportunity they failed to capitalize on during Saturday night’s 2-1 overtime victory against Central Michigan, the Wolverines might not be rich, but their pockets would sure be heavy.
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In a contest that saw it tally two scores, Michigan struggled to put the ball in the back of the net. There were countless chances for the Wolverines to put the game out of reach, even before halftime. But points aren’t handed out for great scoring opportunities, especially unconverted ones, and Michigan coach Greg Ryan understands how fortunate the team is to have eked out a victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Usually, when you miss that many, you lose,” Ryan said. “I think we had seven or eight (chances) right in front of the net (where the ball) came off the crossbar or (went) just over the top. (Junior midfielder Meghan) Toohey had two headers that went over the crossbar, the goalie was down and beaten several times and we just didn’t quite do what it took to put (the ball) in. Usually, you don’t win on days like today.”
After allowing a goal, just minutes into the match, the Wolverines were aggressive attacking Central Michigan’s defense and created scoring opportunities early and often. Perhaps the best chance of the night came when junior forward Nkem Ezurike played a pass through a defender’s leg to freshman midfielder Cassie Collins, who had a fare amount of open net, just feet in front of the goal. But the freshman pushed the ball just wide, clanking it off the left post.
Five Minutes later, Toohey headed a ball off the crossbar following a cross into the box. And once again, in the 42nd minute, the junior had another great scoring opportunity. A wide open Toohey received a pass from a Collins at the Penalty Kick marker, but sent the ball just over the net.
“We started getting chance after chance,” Ryan said. “Not half chances, good chances — chances right in front of the net. All of our best chances were right in front of the goal. We were missing sitter after sitter. Some days you wonder, ‘is this just not your day?’ ”
The second half brought more of the same from the Wolverines, who decided to enter the new period without any alterations to its strategy.
23 minutes into the second stanza, redshirt junior defenseman Holly Hein had a clear shot from the middle of the box, but pushed the ball wide left. Seconds later, a streaking Ezurike beat the Chippewas’ defense and took a pass from Collins, leaving her with a one-on-one situation against Central Michigan goalkeeper Stefanie Turner. With Turner coming out to play the ball, the forward took a shot with her left foot from just inside the box, but found nothing but metal, rocketing her shot off of the crossbar.
“It’s frustrating to get those opportunities and to not put them away,” Ezurike said. “We basically just had to keep going and we knew that we would get (more opportunities) and just had to put them away.”
Central Michigan coach Neil Stafford realized the fortuitous bounces that the ball took all match in order for the Chippewas to play a competitive game.
“Sometimes you need to be as lucky as you are good,” he said.
The Wolverines, who eventually scored in the final minute of regulation, and once again five minutes into the extra period, expressed some concern about the low conversion rate of scoring opportunities. They understand that if they’re going to extend their season, they’ll have to have a short memory, come together and try to improve before their second round matchup against Portland on Friday.
“There was a lot of concern, but we definitely had people there to keep us calm at the same time,” said fifth-year senior midfielder Clare Stachel. “We’re a team, we’re a family, so we’re not going to throw each other under the bus about it. We’re going to learn from it and move on.”