Entering Sunday afternoon’s contest against Northwestern (0-4-0 Big Ten, 2-7-0 overall), the No. 22 Michigan men’s soccer team had been held scoreless with no shots on goal in its past two games. As a result, the Wolverines went 0-2-1, halting the momentum they had gained early in the season.
Just under six minutes into the first half against the Wildcats, Michigan (2-1-1, 5-2-2) had already registered one shot on goal, but was still unable to convert set pieces and scoring chances against a struggling Northwestern defense — it had been outscored, 10-1, in the first half and outshot, 98-74, this season.
In the 16th minute, yet another Wolverine chance went by the wayside, as sophomore midfielder Jack Hallahan’s through ball sailed past the outstretched foot of freshman midfielder Marc Ybarra and trickled out of bounds.
After groans from the crowd subsided, midfielder Ivo Cerda stared at his teammates, clapped his hands fervently and shouted, “Keep it going!”
The junior captain lived by his mantra, setting the example for his teammates to follow. Fifteen minutes later, Cerda’s header into the top-left corner of the goal off another Hallahan cross from the right flank put the Wolverines on the board and, ultimately, back in the win column with a 3-1 victory.
Though the goal — Cerda’s second this season — helped the Santiago, Chile native further his poise the rest of the game, it was more about using the goal as inspiration for his teammates.
“Every player would like to score early,” Cerda said. “It’s easy then to play, but I always try to rub that confidence off and motivation onto my teammates, especially after scoring a goal.”
In his newly-established role as one of the team’s three captains, Cerda blends self-confidence and work ethic to be a model for the players around him.
“(They should) try to stay focused, try to keep a high line,” Cerda said. “They all knew what this game meant to us. It was a turning point for our season, we hoped to get a win today so we can get back on a winning streak. There’s so much to say: they’re all focused, but I just try to keep them motivated.”
After a red card to junior forward Francis Atuahene left Michigan fielding just 10 players for the end of the first and the entire second half, it was the workhorse Cerda who stepped up once again with a man down.
“He’s done really well,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “He’s been asked to play in many different positions as a result of having a little bit of an injury to start the year and having to wean him into our team. He and (Ybarra) are probably the two fittest guys on the team. All of the hard work they do — and all the hard work the team does — is the difference.”
Added Cerda: “I felt that, at moments, you would imagine they had 10 men. We were looking good, keeping possession. … That’s because we trusted what we do, we don’t get scared by any pressure like this. We’re prepared to be a man down and we were lucky enough to get a 2-0 lead.”
After defenseman Jackson Ragen scored in the 55th minute to put the Wolverines up 2-0, it was Cerda who was first to sprint to the freshman with a big hug.
It was Cerda who, as the final whistle blew, breathed a sigh of relief, displayed a wide grin and threw his hands up in the air as if he was Rocky winning a 10-round fight.
And it was Cerda who motioned his teammates to run over to the Michigan Ultras, waved at fans to stay and not head for the exits, and started to sing “Hail to the Victors.”