- File Photo/Daily
By Steven Braid, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 5, 2012
The start of the season is fast approaching for the Michigan women’s soccer team, and for most of the Wolverines, their focus will be transfixed solely on Aug. 17 and the season-opening weekend.
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But for sophomore midfielder Christina Murillo, junior forward Nkem Ezurike and junior defensman Shelina Zadorsky, their minds, as well as their bodies, will be somewhere else.
Japan, to be exact.
While Michigan opens up its season with games against Fordham and Pittsburgh in Ann Arbor, Ezurike, Murillo and Zadorsky — a trio that has started every contest they’ve competed in during their collegiate careers — will be halfway around the world participating in the Under-20 FIFA World Cup, which takes place from Aug. 19 to Sept. 8.
“They’re very special players,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan.
The two juniors will lace up for Canada while Murillo will compete for Mexico.
“Playing with Canada is a huge challenge, but obviously it’s an honor,” Zadorsky said. “It will just help us even more … I think we’ll come back better. International experience adds to you as an all-around player.”
Though all three players will likely play significant roles for their squads in Japan, Ezurike figures to make the biggest visible contribution. The explosive forward has been the driving force for the Wolverines’ offense ever since she arrived on campus. In 2010, she became just the fifth freshman in the program’s history to lead her team in scoring and ranks first all-time with 1.80 points per game.
Ryan expects her to be just as dangerous in international play.
“Nkem is a great target player, a great forward and a great scorer,” Ryan said. “If you look over our past two seasons and see who has the most goals scored, it’s Nkem. She’s a critical player for us and she will be for Canada.”
The two Canadians will depart from Michigan this week to join their national team for a pre-World Cup camp, but will enter the World Cup with limited playing together, having only played together for three weeks so far since qualifying for the tournament in early March.
“You only have a few weeks to prepare for a big tournament, so everything has to get done a little quicker,” Ezurike said. “It’s just one competition that’s a few weeks.”
Despite the lack of team training, Zadorsky has high hopes for the tournament.
“I think we’ve done well with the short amount of time we’ve had, and we’ve progressed a lot as a team,” Zadorsky said. “I think just even more experience will help us. We have a game before the World Cup — we play Japan — so that’ll be a good game for us.”
Murillo, who has already departed from the team, started every game for Michigan during her freshman season. Though she didn’t notch a goal, she often orchestrated scoring possessions, ranking second on the team with five assists.
“Christina Murillo is a skillful, calm, composed player with great vision and poise,” Ryan said.
Though the three starters will miss all eight of Michigan’s nonconference contests, Ryan remains supportive of his players’ decision to compete in the international tournament.
“Any time you play at the national team level, you’re playing against some of the top players in the world,” Ryan said. “You only get better from those experiences and I think they’re going to grow a tremendous amount.”