Sophomore midfielder Francis Atuahene juked his way into the 18-yard box. With a chance at goal, Atuahene sensed the oncoming challenge and slid beneath his defender to direct the ball to his teammate, freshman forward Jack Hallahan.
Hallahan capitalized on a one-timer, making contact with the sweet spot of his laces to send the ball into the open net. Fifteen minutes into the match, and it was 1-0 Michigan.
That would be the first and final score for the Wolverines on the night. The Michigan men’s soccer team (1-4-1 Big Ten, 2-6-4 overall) left Piscataway with a 1-1 tie against Big Ten foe Rutgers (0-5-1, 0-8-2) after two hotly contested — and scoreless — overtime periods.
At the start of the game, it appeared Michigan would come out on top. With numerous scoring chances, outshooting the Scarlet Knights 10-6 in the first half, the Wolverines’ pressure was relentless.
In the 38th minute, though, Rutgers answered back. A quick touch by Scarlet Knight defender Niel Gutzman into the back of the net, and the game was tied at one.
“I think we started very well in the first half,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “We had a great performance, plenty of chances … They caused us some problems, so it was kind of the tale of two halves.”
By the end of the second half, the Scarlet Knights had outshot the Wolverines, 16-13. Lucky that the majority of Rutgers’ shots were off-target, Michigan’s junior goalie Evan Louro tallied four saves.
Throughout the two overtime periods, the match was even. The teams put on a show for the spectators at Yurcak Field, with flurries of shots and attempts coming from both sides of the ball.
“It was certainly an open game,” Daley said. “Both teams went for it, and both teams were fighting for everything.”
In the final minute of the second overtime stanza, the Wolverines nearly stole the game. Rutgers keeper David Greczek made a quick save in the bottom right hand pocket following a Hallahan shot, forcing the ball down and off the goalline.
With 12 seconds remaining, sophomore midfielder Ivo Cerda pushed back with a header toward the twine — but it was no good. Greczek came up clutch with another save, and he punted the ball toward Michigan’s half just before the final buzzer sounded.
“Obviously, it’s always challenging when you’re away from home, but I thought the guys certainly put their best foot forward and went for it,” Daley said. “Certainly we’re doing some positive things. We just have to keep fighting away and keep competing.”
As a trend, Big Ten bouts deep in the season tend to entice such tight, back-and-forth competition. Since Oct. 1, the largest margin of victory in Big Ten men’s soccer play has been a mere two goals. With two ties and four one-goal victory margins in the week, Big Ten teams are grappling for points to better their chances in the Big Ten tournament standings.
And though Michigan left the field winless, it left with tie, a well-played match and maybe most importantly, another point — and this late in the season, the Wolverines need all the points they can manage.