Michigan men's soccer roster breakdown
Despite a dismal 4-11-4 record, it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call the Michigan men’s soccer team’s 2016 season a complete disappointment. Teams that rely on underclassmen as four of their top five playmakers, as the Wolverines did last season, tend to experience growing pains. That was certainly true for Michigan, as the Wolverines scored just 22 goals in 19 matches last season and shot .081 compared to .102 for their opponents.
However, Michigan showed flashes at times, especially towards the end of the season — in their last four matches, the Wolverines averaged 2.75 goals, defeated No. 9 Rutgers and battled No. 1 Maryland to two double-overtime losses. Meanwhile, coach Chaka Daley was able to land the No. 8 recruiting class in the country according to TopDrawerSoccer.com — a class that includes midfielder Umar Farouk Osman, the Gatorade National Player of the Year.
With Michigan kicking off preseason training Wednesday, and its first exhibition game against Wisconsin-Green Bay 10 days away, the Daily previews the Wolverines’ 2017 roster.
Replacing Evan Louro will undoubtedly be Michigan’s biggest task going into the season. Louro, who tallied 68 saves as a junior, was a rock in goal for the Wolverines throughout his career, making 44 starts in three seasons and finishing with the second-best goals-allowed-per-game average in program history. His decision to sign with MLS’s New York Red Bulls leaves a hole that won’t be filled easily.
Andrew Verdi, who redshirted as a freshman last season, could get the first shot at doing so. Verdi and Louro share a number of similarities: Both were part of MLS youth academies — Louro with the Red Bulls and Verdi with the Philadelphia Union — and both have national team experience — Louro competed with the United States U20 National Team while Verdi was a member of the U.S. U18 squad. While Verdi is short on experience, his talent could propel him into an immediate starting role.
The Wolverines have three other goalkeepers on their roster. Fifth-year senior Grant Mattia was the third-stringer last season, playing in one contest after not appearing in either of the last two seasons. Michigan also adds two freshmen netminders: Weston, Fla. product Henry Mashburn and Michigan native Jacob Nunner.
The Wolverines are losing three defenders from last season: Lars Eckenrode, Andre Morris and Rylee Woods, who were three of Michigan’s top four defenders in minutes played last season. Morris and Eckenrode provided experience and leadership at centerback, while Michigan will miss Woods’ versatility and playmaking ability on the flank, where he tallied a team-leading six assists last season.
Left and right back should be in strong hands with junior Marcello Borges and senior Billy Stevens, respectively. Borges, who moved from left wing to the back four midway through the season, tied for third in assists with three, while Stevens has started 53 games over the last three seasons.
Peter Brown, who started 11 games last year, is likely to fill one of the vacancies at central defender. Other candidates to see time include sophomore Abdou Samake and junior Daniel Mukuna, who should provide good size and physicality. Mukuna, a mid-year transfer from Campbell, was named to the All-Big South Second Team as a sophomore.
The Wolverines add three freshmen to the mix in Nash Pirie (Barrington, Ill.), Joel Harrison (Langley, B.C.) and Jackson Ragen (Seattle, Wash.). Versatility is a hallmark of the group — Ragen, a skilled passer according to Daley, can play both centerback and the No. 6 midfield position, as can Harrison. Pirie has a reputation as an athletic, dangerous attacker at fullback.
Michigan comes into the season with a wealth of midfielders, 12 in all. Central midfielder Tyler Anderson and Brett Nason, the Wolverines’ main holding midfielder, are the main losses in this group.
Michigan will look for strong production from Ivo Cerda, who was named a team captain this season. The junior central midfielder scored two goals and added two assists last season, tying for fifth on the team in points scored.
Junior Robbie Mertz appeared to find a home as a playmaking, attacking midfielder last season. Mertz provided four goals and chipped in three assists as a sophomore, and will be responsible for connecting the Wolverines’ forwards, keeping them engaged and providing them with scoring opportunities.
Michigan’s recruiting class includes Austin Swietch, who Daley has described as being able to play holding midfield and attacking midfield equally effectively, Carlos Tellez, a hard-working central midfielder, and Marc Ybarra, who Daley believes could become a “top-class holding midfielder.” Osman, however, is the biggest name of the group, and with good reason.
As a senior in high school, Osman contributed to 28 of his team’s 30 goals, scoring 63 goals and adding 45 assists in all. Osman joins fellow Ghanaians Francis Atuahene and Mohammed Zakyi on Michigan’s roster, and will once again team up with Atuahene after they played together at the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut. Despite his youth, his speed, skill and versatility should allow him to contribute anywhere and possibly have the game-changing impact Atuahene had as a freshman.
The names to know here are Atuahene and sophomore Jack Hallahan, who were first and second, respectively, in goals for the Wolverines last season. Hallahan, a member of Ireland’s U18 and U19 national teams, impacted games last season with his pace and skill on the wing.
Atuahene, though, has been the centerpiece of Michigan’s offense throughout his career. He ranked fourth in the Big Ten in goals per match last season, tallying eight for the season, and was named First Team All-Big Ten for a second straight year. His speed, physicality and finishing ability should keep him in Big Ten team’s nightmares once again.
The biggest loss among the Wolverines’ forwards is that of Yamann Salool, who scored three goals last season and was their top goal-scoring threat off the bench. Finding someone to give Atuahene a breather on occasion will be key. Zakyi, a product of Manchester City’s Academy and the Ghana U17 National Team who scored 60 goals his last two seasons for the Canterbury School in Connecticut, and junior Johann Bittner, who appeared in six games last season, are two candidates to do so.