After 109 scoreless minutes marred by physicality from the onset, the Michigan men’s soccer team strived for a miracle goal or at least a draw against visiting Ohio State (3-3-1 Big Ten, 5-10-1 overall) Friday night.
But with just 23 seconds left in the second overtime, Buckeye midfielder Ben Fitzpatrick tapped the ball from the top of the box to forward Nate Kohl on the right flank, whose right bender evaded the outstretched arms of diving Wolverines goalie Evan Louro. The ball finished in the lower-left corner of the net for the only goal of the game, ending Michigan’s bid to escape with a tie and one point in the process.
“We fought really hard from minute one, and it was just super unlucky at the end to concede a late goal after pushing numbers forward,” said senior center back Lars Eckenrode. “We had to get something out of the game, and unfortunately we got caught on the break late, but I thought the guys gave everything they could, and that’s all we can ask.
“It’s a really tough pill to swallow. We needed to win this game — we didn’t come out with any sort of points — so this is really a tough one, one of the toughest losses I’ve had to deal with in my four years here.”
Though a 1-0 result for a Wolverines team (1-5-1, 2-9-4) desperate for a win to rise in the conference standings was unfavorable, another chapter of the rivalry dramatically closed.
The chippy game featured counterattacks by both offenses, flying bodies on seemingly every attack and a combined 34 fouls. The officials issued four yellow cards – one in the first half to Ohio State defender Tyler Kidwell and three in the first sudden-death period. Michigan midfielders Tyler Anderson and Ivo Cerda each drew one, as did Buckeye midfielder Abdi Mohamed.
The pushing, shoving and other “extracurricular activity” from the opening kickoff was expectedly intensified for a typical Michigan-Ohio State showdown.
“It’s always going to be a physical game against Ohio State,” Eckenrode said. “There’s a little bit of tension between the two of us, that goes without saying. The Big Ten is a very physical conference … but today was a little bit more than normal. … I think it just adds to the excitement and to some of the fire that comes into this rivalry.”
Both teams tried to outmatch each other with speed, attempting long balls down the flanks which were easily swallowed up by the impenetrable defenses. After 45 minutes, each collected four shots, none on goal.
In the 60th minute, the action picked up quickly on both sides of the field and continued as such for the remainder of the game. The Wolverines had two scoring chances in a one-minute span: a pass from senior defender Rylee Woods found freshman forward Jack Hallahan in the box only to finish high of the goal, and a ball placed into the box by junior defenseman Billy Stevens was headed wide left by Woods. The missteps led to a Buckeye opportunity on the counterattack, but Louro’s impressive stop preserved the stalemate.
Sophomore forward Francis Atuahene and Hallahan, noted for their speed and agility, were subdued by two or three swarming defenders each time they touched the ball. The attacking duo pieced together a combined nine shots yet totaled only one on goal.
However, Michigan pressed on, but were unable to capitalize, specifically inside the box. The biggest threat came with 2:30 left in the second overtime when Hallahan stepped over the ball, spun around an Ohio State defender and shot the ball right over the crossbar from close range.
“We certainly went for it in the second overtime to try to find a way,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “Unfortunately, we didn’t find it. We had our chances without question, a number of quality chances, a number of opportunities in and around the 18, (that were) drastically in our favor and we didn’t take them.”
Daley characterized the result as “an unfortunately broken record” — another game that saw the Wolverines play hard throughout but come up short. Though they will be no consolation for the devastating loss, the final two regular-season games, both at home, serve as additional tests for the team to bounce back.
“It’s certainly unfortunate,” Daley said. “But we, as a group, have to continue to fight and compete and see how things go the rest of the way.”