Jack Hallahan's evolution as a ball player prominent in 'M' victory
Jack Hallahan is an Energizer Bunny.
On Sunday, the senior forward was all over the place. He pirouetted through defenders with ease, scrambled down field on numerous breakaways and dished out two assists, en route to a 3-0 victory for the Michigan men’s soccer team (5-2-3 overall, Big Ten 2-0-2) over Northwestern (5-5-1, 1-2-1).
From the onset, Hallahan made his presence known, terrorizing the Wildcats’ defenders with crafty footwork and dazzling speed.
Opposing coaches have braced for facing Hallahan since he stepped on the collegiate pitch his freshman year in 2016.
Since then, Hallahan led the team in points over his sophomore and junior seasons, notching nine and eight goals, respectively.
And 2019 is looking no different. Now in his final campaign, Hallahan has already proven that he remains a force to be reckoned with.
But his role has evolved.
This season, the Wolverines deploy a 4-4-2 formation, as opposed to the 4-4-3 formation they ran in the past, meaning that Hallahan, a forward by trade, is playing further back, deeper into the Michigan midfield.
No longer playing the true forward position, Hallahan’s role in the Wolverines’ offense has elevated from the team’s premier goal-scorer to a dangerous, multi-dimensional facilitator. By playing closer to the midfield, Hallahan is consistently swarmed on all fronts by opponents who attempt to stifle his eruptive style of play, opening up the field for his teammates.
“There is a lot of attention on Jack Hallahan. (Teams) know who No. 11 is,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “He’s finding other ways to impact the team. (And) other guys are benefitting.”
The threat of Hallahan has allowed forward play to prosper, with graduate student Nebojsa Popovic and sophomore Derek Broche leading the team in goals, with six and three, respectively.
While Hallahan recorded an impressive 15 assists in his sophomore and junior seasons combined, he already has six assists just over halfway into his senior campaign.
Hallahan’s first assist on Sunday came at a much-needed time for the offense.
After standing scoreless with Northwestern at halftime, the Wolverines built off mounting confidence carried over from the first half. Despite the score, stringent defensive play and numerous offensive opportunities fueled the team's belief in its abilities.
“We had some really good chances (in the first half) and were competitive,” Daley said. “Defensively, we gave our chance to win the game that stayed contagious throughout the game.”
Four minutes into the second half, following an arching corner kick from Hallahan, junior defender Jack Ragen headed the ball towards Carlos Tellez. The junior midfielder placed the ball past Wildcat goalkeeper Miha Miskovic to give Michigan the lead, 1-0.
Just four minutes later, Hallahan helped to facilitate the second goal of the day. Weaving through Northwestern’s defensive lines, Hallahan passed the ball off to Ybarra. Ybarra then hit Popovic in stride, who rocketed a shot past Miskovic.
With only one goal thus far on the season, one might expect frustration to emerge from Hallahan given his goal-scoring pedigree.
Quite the contrary.
“It’s more about creating opportunities than putting it away at this point. For me, I got my goals last year,” Hallahan said. “It’s better for the team in a way. We’ve got two great goal scorers up top still.”
Whether controlling the pace of the offense, eyeing up goal-scoring opportunities or pestering defenders with his agility, Hallahan has proven that his value on the field is greater than his goal-scoring statistics.
“He’s trying to make the right decisions at the right times and pick out the right players for the right reasons,” Daley said. “He really is a selfless player. He works for the team. When you have a big time player like that, it’s very contagious throughout the group.”