Season Preview: Men's Soccer
150-plus years ago, Charles Dickens unknowingly described the 2017 Michigan men’s soccer team’s (6-1-1 Big Ten, 12-6-2 Overall) 2017 season in 12 words as well as anyone today could in a thousand.
For much of last season, it was the best of times for the Wolverines. Needing a win against Maryland on the road, Michigan clinched its first Big Ten regular-season championship in program history on an overtime goal off the golden foot of MLS-bound forward Francis Atuahene. The Wolverines rose to as high as No. 10 in the United Soccer Coaches Poll, tied a program record with nine home wins and even held then-No. 1 Indiana to a 1-1 draw, all after going 4-11-4 just a year prior.
With a first round bye in the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2012, Michigan had lofty postseason hopes. Against Colgate in the second round, Michigan initially looked like the same strong team, scoring two goals in the first five minutes. The good times kept rolling.
By the time the first half was over though, that 2-0 lead was gone. And by the time the clock ran out, Michigan’s tournament hopes were gone, a resurgent season squandered 3-2 on a 87th-minute header from a team that finished .500 in the Patriot League. When it mattered most, it was the worst of times in Ann Arbor.
The past is not something Michigan can completely erase. However, the Wolverines return all but two players from last year’s team and have enough talent to bury last year’s painful exit under many more achievements. For all the heartbreak at the end of the season, not many predicted Michigan to even come close to where it did in the first place. The Daily breaks down how the Wolverines and Michigan coach Chaka Daley will look to continue their success and the obstacles they may face:
With Atuahene’s departure to FC Dallas, Daley will lean even more heavily on junior forward Jack Hallahan, who led the team in points (25), goals (nine) and assists (7), and was named First Team All-Big Ten. Sophomore Mohammed Zakyi scored six goals of his own to pace the rest of the team and should slip right into the forward spot vacated by Atuahene.
Other than that, the rest of the team remains largely the same from last year. Senior Robbie Mertz returns to the midfield as last season’s co-MVP with Hallahan, accompanied by fellow senior Ivo Cerda and sophomore Marc Ybarra, the latter of whom started all but two games as a freshman and played a crucial role as the team’s free-kicker from distance. Both Zakyi and Ybarra were named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team.
On the back end, senior and Second Team All-Big Ten Marcello Borges returns as the best defender. In 15 starts, Borges was the anchor of a Wolverines defense that allowed multiple goals in only four games and ranked fourth in the Big Ten with a 1.138 goals against average.
What is Michigan’s biggest question going into the season?
The goalie situation.
Then-sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Verdi came into the season as the starter, starting thirteen games for Michigan and allowing fourteen goals. After a 3-1 loss to No. 7 Notre Dame, however, the Wolverines turned to freshman goalkeeper Henry Mashburn, who started off strong with three goals allowed in five games. Mashburn, though, allowed four goals in a loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament, and three more in Michigan’s ultimate match against Colgate.
Will the Wolverines turn back to Verdi and put their unfortunate end to last season in the rear-view mirror? Or will they build on that late season success with Mashburn and develop him as the goalie of the future?
Michigan will play 17 regular season fixtures, with twelve of those matches being at U-M Soccer Stadium. Of their five true road games, two of those are also in state — at Oakland and Michigan State for the Big Bear trophy.
The Wolverines would benefit from a fast start, however, because the end of their schedule doesn’t do them any favors. To end the regular season, Michigan plays five of their final six matches against teams that they lost to last season — vs. Indiana, vs. Notre Dame, at Wisconsin, at Michigan State and vs. Maryland. All of those teams were ranked in the top 10 at some point of last season.