'M' soccer reflects on similarities between its season and FIFA World Cup

Jake Fromm/Daily
Michigan defender Alex Wood (#18) plays against Northwestern on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009, in Ann Arbor. Michigan won 1-0 in extra time. Buy this photo

BY CASANDRA PAGNI
Daily Sports Writer
Published July 3, 2010

The less you have of something, the more it can be appreciated, right?

In the case of the FIFA World Cup, the 2010 Michigan men’s soccer team would certainly agree.

“Since the (FIFA) World Cup only comes around every four years, all the guys on the team get very amped,” junior midfielder Alex Wood said. “Everyone’s got it on (their TV). It’s our equivalent to the Super Bowl, but over a month-long period, so every game that people can catch, people are watching. I think it has a huge effect on us as individuals as well as us as a team.”

While this summer’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa highlights professional soccer players representing their native countries, the Wolverines have looked up to certain players and teams in different scenarios from this World Cup to help improve their individual games.

“We’re always striving to imitate what the successful teams do both on and off the (field), as far as being professionals,” Wood said. “These players have made a profession of the sport that we love, so anything you can take from them (individually) and as a team, we are definitely soaking in all of it.”

Watching the elimination games in this summer’s FIFA World Cup has also reminded Michigan of the importance of every game and the lingering sting that a tough loss can leave on a team.

“Every game in the World Cup, either you win or you don’t play again for four years,” redshirt junior Chris Blais said. “At Michigan, we have our Big Ten Tournament (and) NCAA Tournament and it is a win-or-go-home situation.

“We’re not playing in the World Cup and it’s not the next four years (until we play again), but I think our team is trying to take every game as seriously and as important.

“One thing we can take out of the World Cup is that these guys are playing a game where if they lose, they may not ever play in a World Cup match again, so that experience just hits home with us.”

While the United States’ team was on the losing end of an elimination match against Ghana two weeks ago, Blais — the Wolverine goalkeeper —knows there is something to be learned from the United States’ effort.

“For me, it was really interesting to see (United States’ midfielder) Landon Donovan,” Blais said. “(Donovan) was just under immense pressure. Seeing him step up was almost like being the captain of our team at Michigan, seeing him (score in two World Cup games) just lets us know that even guys under immense pressure can handle it.”

With the World Cup as arguably the most respected stage that a professional soccer player can play on, the pride that the athletes show for their countries every four years is unmatched. However, in the collegiate game, a similar pride exists when an athlete represents the same university for four years.

“As soon we put on our jerseys, it’s not just another shirt you wear,” Wood said. “When you keep that in mind, you constantly get a surge of energy and overwhelming confidence when you get on that field. There is a huge amount of pride that goes into wearing the Michigan uniform and representing our institution and peers both at home and other schools.”

With soccer’s popularity on the rise, Wood and Blais agree that the media accessibility of the 2010 FIFA World Cup has undoubtedly brought fans in the United States into the sport. The two hope that the skill on display at this year’s World Cup and the United States’ run will help bring fans to the game at all levels.

While the remaining days of the FIFA World Cup are limited, Michigan’s fall preparations have only just begun. The Wolverines know that the length and stages of its season means taking it one game at a time — regardless of the opponent, pressure or stadium they finds themselves playing in.

Michigan fields a team every season — not every four — but that doesn’t mean it takes the FIFA World Cup lightly.

The passion, excitement, and professional soccer on display at the World Cup constantly reminds Wolverine players like Blais and Wood how much they love the sport they play.

“(The FIFA World Cup) is awesome,” Wood said. “If you hate soccer, I kind of feel bad for you right now, because the World Cup is huge this year.”