Ultimately, it’s all about finishing.
The Michigan men’s soccer team learned that lesson Sunday evening in its 1-0 loss to No. 13 Washington. Despite plenty of close calls and solid scoring opportunities, the Wolverines were unable to break through when it mattered.
Michigan started off confidently and maintained control of play for most of the first half. The Wolverines’ defense consistently frustrated Washington’s attack and recovered the ball when they needed to.
“I don’t think we make many mistakes defensively,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “We really only made one this evening, and that’s when they scored.”
This defensive strength was mirrored by the Huskies’ on the other half of the field, though, and Michigan often had trouble converting possessions into scoring opportunities. When those rare chances did come, the Wolverines failed to connect.
Early in the second half, Michigan’s attack proved to be much more assertive. For a moment, it seemed the Wolverines would break the gridlock when freshman forward Christian Pulselli stole the ball and fed it to sophomore forward Derick Broche in the middle of the box. As the crowd roared in anticipation, the ball rolled just beyond Broche’s control into the keeper’s hands. Yet another scoring opportunity fizzled away.
“I thought we were quite dangerous and had them on the back foot a lot in the second half,” Daley said. “We were finally able to move into the final third in possession — but after that it’s a matter of making the right choice and picking out the right guys. We have some new personalities so figuring that out is where we struggled a little bit.”
In the 50th minute, the Huskies were the ones who were able to open up the scoring. After a combination play and missed slide tackle, Washington defender Kasey French took control of a cross and smashed the ball past Michigan senior keeper Andrew Verdi’s hands into the top left corner.
This momentary lapse from an otherwise-poised defense would come to define the rest of the game.
A remarkable series of chances as the half progressed showed the Wolverines had figured out how to set up chances for themselves against the Husky defense. But an air of frustration fell over the team as successive chances in the box ended without success.
“At halftime we discussed how we can keep them pinned in and also not allow them to play as much as they did in the first half where they kind of rolled out and played,” Daley said. “It was a positive tactic for us but there were a lot of near misses — they made a great save or a shot hit the post or the crossbar.”
Indeed, shot after shot from Michigan missed by inches or was barely deflected. Notably, junior forward Umar Farouk Osman fired the ball toward the goal from the middle of the box in the 64th minute, but it flew past the keeper’s hands and bounced off the crossbar back into the box where Osman was unable to recreate the shot.
Hallahan came similarly close in the 56th minute. He regained control after the Huskies initially cleared away Michigan’s corner kick and fired a shot past Washington’s diving keeper, but the ball bounced off the post.
Washington’s defense remained poised and stopped the persistent Wolverine attack in its tracks. Michigan’s defense, meanwhile, returned to form for the remainder of the game and denied Washington any chance to extend their lead.
“We owned every big moment tonight and that’s what we were trying to educate our guys about,” Daley said. “We own tonight’s result and we owned those moments — the question is how we can take more advantage of them and put good teams like Washington away.
“It’s a big step forward in belief for the coaching staff — we can really compete if we can win the big moments.”
That was of little consolation to the Wolverines and their fans. Despite a wealth of close calls and near misses, salvation by an equalizer was out of reach.