Blue set to take on second-seeded Terps

Sarah Squire/Daily
Soony Saad in game against Notre Dame on Friday September 17, 2010 in U-M Soccer Stadium. Michigan tied, 0-0. Buy this photo

By Neal Rothschild, For the Daily
Published December 2, 2010

Six weeks ago, the Michigan men’s soccer team had just suffered a resounding 7-1 loss to top-ranked Akron to drop its overall record to 8-4-3. The Wolverines were looking to finish the regular season strong and earn a respectable seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Little did they know this would be their last loss to date.

Eight straight wins, a Big Ten championship and two NCAA Tournament victories later, the No. 10 seed Michigan (7-2 Big Ten, 16-4-3 overall) is seeking the school’s first berth in the College Cup — college soccer’s final four.

No. 2 seed Maryland (19-2-1) stands in Michigan's way. The Terrapins have won 15 straight games and an ACC championship en route to their national quarterfinals appearance.

Maryland and the Wolverines will square off on Saturday in College Park at 1 p.m.

Michigan’s tournament path to the quarterfinals included a second-round 2-1 overtime win over Central Florida and a 4-1 Sweet 16 victory against South Carolina. Maryland has beaten Pennsylvania, 4-0, and Penn State, 1-0.

Michigan enters the matchup led by the self-titled “Three Amigos” — senior forward Justin Meram, freshman forward Soony Saad and his brother, sophomore midfielder Hamoody Saad. Soony and Meram have been on a goal-scoring tear throughout most of the season, with one of the two scoring a goal in each of the Wolverines’ last 14 games. Soony is the second-leading scorer in the country with 19 goals this season, while Meram has 15.

The team has tallied the most soccer victories (16) in school history and hopes to become the first Big Ten team to reach the College Cup since Indiana won the tournament in 2004.

“What makes this team so special is that we’ve got great ownership,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “Every man on the team really feels he has a part on the team and has to perform his role for the team to do its best.”

The Wolverines face a prolific Maryland offensive attack, which includes forwards Casey Townsend — a Traverse City, Mich. Native—and Jason Herrick, as well as midfielder Matt Kessel. The trio has combined for 27 goals and 21 assists this season.

“They like to play a lot of long balls,” redshirt junior goalkeeper Chris Blais said of Maryland. “So we have to make sure they’re not getting anything easy over the top, and I have to stay on my line.”

This year’s upstart Wolverines squad stands in contrast to Maryland, an established soccer power. Maryland has won three national championships, including titles in 2005 and 2008 while Michigan’s program is just 11 years old and is trying to make a name for itself in the ranks of college soccer. The two schools have never met in men’s soccer.

If Michigan triumphs Saturday, it will play the winner of the California-Akron matchup on Dec. 10 in the College Cup semifinals in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“It would mean a ton to everyone that’s ever been involved in Michigan soccer if we made it to the College Cup,” Blais said.