With a Central Michigan forward streaking toward the goal, senior defender Sydney Shepherd found herself in a jam. Shepherd paced just a few inches behind the attacker, who saw nothing but open grass ahead and eight minutes left in the game.
As the forward prepared to fire a shot past senior goalkeeper Izzy Nino, Shepherd made her move. She swept toward the ball, pushing around the attacker to break up the play.
The only chance the Chippewas could muster was snuffed out. The ensuing free kick was easily saved by Nino, and the No. 18 Michigan women’s soccer team won 1-0.
From the start of the game, the backline of Shepherd, senior Janiece Joyner and junior Jayde Riviere controlled the pitch.
Much of this came from maneuvering around attacking players. Whether they boxed them out or shook them off with fancy footwork, the trio would give the Chippewas just one or two touches before winning it back and lobbing the ball to an open Wolverine midfielder.
Michigan didn’t force the play, however, choosing to keep possession and rotate back. These came often, as the Wolverines’ speed kept Central Michigan playing from catch up.
“I think the backline was really cohesive the entire game,” Shepherd said. “But I can give a lot of credit to the holding mids and the midfield that dropped back and played a big role in staying tucked and together defensively. We’ve really been working on staying together as a unit in training, so I think it all kind of came through this weekend.”
That teamwork led to a 26-1 shot-attempt disparity. However, communication seemed to fall apart deeper in the offensive zone. Multiple times, Michigan attackers found an overwhelming chance but ran offside, squandering the opportunity. This even caused a goal to be disallowed late in the second half.
Part of that came from the very root of their style: aggressive play. With multiple Wolverines swarming the goal, there were more players to manage. Michigan struggled to find a solution to break them down throughout the game.
Other problems surfaced when the Wolverines took longer passes. With more time to track the ball, the Chippewas broke up many passes to deep midfielders, putting more weight on Michigan’s defenders. While they handled this with no panic, substitutions came quickly and often to keep them from wearing out, and to put the pressure on Central Michigan.
With so much possession time, the Wolverines remained frustrated as the game continued, and Chippewas’s goalkeeper Allison Lapoint gobbled up shot after shot. She single-handedly kept the game within reach.
Early in the second half, fifth-year midfielder Nicki Hernandez faced Lapoint one-on-one, with yards of open net on both sides. She shot across, and finally, Lapoint couldn’t get there in time. A tinny clang rang through the stadium as the ball bounced off of the goalpost and was cleared by Central Michigan. Hernandez put her hands to her head. She would eventually break through with the game’s only goal on a quick pass from junior forward Lily Farkas in the 63rd minute.
“I think we just need to get some better timing, timing within our movement, speed of our passes,” Michigan coach Jennifer Klein said. “I think we’ll clean a lot of that up. The ideas are right, and now it’s just making sure we can get the execution.”
Michigan entered Sunday’s game with an expectation to win the game handily. While the defense performed like a brick wall, the offense couldn’t find the same rhythm.