Michigan's perfect Big Ten start ends with 3-0 loss

Thursday, October 6, 2016 - 11:03pm

Ten minutes into the game, the scoreboard read 2-0 between first-place Michigan (5-1-0 Big Ten, 9-2-1 overall) and last-place Illinois (1-4-1, 4-9-1). But it was the Fighting Illini who were up.

What was meant to be a straightforward game turned into something much different, as the Wolverines fell 3-0 and left Champaign shell-shocked.

It was the first time this season Michigan had conceded first, been down by more than one goal and failed to score one of its own. The loss also ended the Wolverines’ seven-game win streak and blemished what had been a perfect conference record.

“The key for us is our defense,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “We play well when we defend well, and today we just didn’t do that.”

From the first whistle, Illinois pressed Michigan high up the field, and the Wolverines looked sluggish, falling well behind the pace of the game.

Five minutes into the game, the Fighting Illini had something to show for their early dominance, as midfielder Reagan Robinshaw found herself with space on the edge of the box and floated the ball just under the crossbar.

Michigan barely had time to respond. Less than five minutes later, Illinois forward Kara Marbury headed the ball past sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Jackson to double the Fighting Illini’s lead.

“Credit to Illinois,” Ryan said. “They rushed to get forward and made some really great chances early on, and they outplayed us.”

The rest of the half didn’t go much better for the Wolverines, who were unable to hold on to the ball and string passes together. Illinois had run them ragged.

Michigan came out in the second half looking like a changed team, holding Illinois to only one shot. But the damage had already been done. Already up by three goals, Illinois sat back to avoid conceding and looked to hit the Wolverines on the counterattack.

Michigan finished the game with 15 shots, and despite threatening in the second half, it was a night where the ball just didn’t want to go in.

The best chances fell to senior defender Melissa Kreutz, who had two shots cleared off the line by the Fighting Illini defense when it looked as though their keeper had been beaten.

“Illinois’ keeper had a great game,” Ryan said. “She made some great saves, and when a keeper and defense are having a game like that, it’s impossible to score.”

Perhaps nothing summed up the Wolverines’ night better than Illinois’ third goal.

Five minutes before halftime, Michigan freshman defender Jada Dayne unintentionally cleared a Fighting Illini long ball back toward her goal. Illinois midfielder Katie Murray latched onto the loose ball behind the Wolverine back line and, one-on-one with the keeper, calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net.

“It was just a bad game,” Ryan said. “We’re still top (of the Big Ten), so we have to move forward and prepare for Northwestern now.”