Michigan beats Oakland, 2-0
It’s a word Michigan men’s soccer coach Chaka Daley used a lot after the Wolverines’ (3-2-1) 2-0 victory over Oakland (3-2-1) on Tuesday night.
More specifically, Daley wanted to take that belief away from the Golden Grizzlies. His squad had plenty of their own.
The latter was evident from the opening touches of the first half. Led by senior forward Jack Hallahan, Michigan created turnovers and forced early attacks into its front third. Just a few minutes into the match, Hallahan found the back of the net — only to have it wiped off the board due to a foul off the ball. Close calls like this have been all too familiar for Hallahan this season; he leads the conference in shots, but had yet to score.
“The post is like my best friend,” Hallahan said of his scoring dry spell.
In the 11th minute, the Wolverines were able to force more shots on target and finally capitalize. Hallahan found the ball at his feet after a shot by graduate transfer forward Nebosja Popovic was deflected by Oakland goalkeeper Sullivan Lauderdale, and he finally broke the drought. But when asked about what he did best, Hallahan was quick to acknowledge his achievements on the other side of the ball.
“Everyone expects me to do stuff in the attack and it’ll come, but tonight, I didn’t let anyone down defensively,” Hallahan said.
Just a few minutes later, Popovic, the former Golden Grizzly, streaked downfield. Upon receiving a well-played through ball from senior defender Abdou Samake, he snuck the ball over Lauderdale from just outside the box on only one touch. Popovic said his goal and the game’s final outcome “confirmed (he) made the right decision” in choosing to come to Michigan after being recruited by the school on several occasions.
The Golden Grizzlies’ fast-paced and aggressive play proved to all in attendance that they were down, but not out. They played a lot of balls into the air in hopes of forcing some chances on goal, but the Wolverines’ back four worked as a unit and didn’t let balls get over their heads. Thanks to their efforts, senior goalkeeper Andrew Verdi only had to attend to two shots on target.
The second half proved that a game against Michigan’s in-state counterparts would be far from a tune-up before Big Ten play. The Golden Grizzlies made several crucial adjustments to stay competitive and give themselves every chance to score. They played with three in the back, allowing their supplemented front to force extended stays deep in Wolverine territory. They favored a ground attack over playing balls in the air because Michigan had been so effective in forcing turnovers and otherwise interrupting Oakland’s first half aerial exchanges.
Aware of the dangers of this revamped attack, Daley could be heard exhorting his forwards to hustle on defense. A bevy of Golden Grizzly substitutions with a baker’s dozen or so minutes remaining confirmed their commitment to attacking with fresh legs until the final whistle.
In some ways, according to Daley, that means the Wolverines failed.
“We were trying to get a third (goal) first,” Daley mused. “Can we end the game, or can we end their belief?” The answer on Tuesday was no. Instead, Michigan had to “see the game out and manage the game to the end.”
That meant neutralizing the playmaking impact of Golden Grizzly junior midfielder Noah Jensen, according to Daley. And in the last 10 minutes, his men succeeded in doing just that.
After watching the Wolverines build their lead in the first 15 minutes and protect it in the last 75, Michigan fans can be assured that there is much to believe in for the upcoming campaign.