After a promising preseason and a seven-game undefeated streak, the Michigan women’s soccer team fell to both Illinois and Northwestern in their last back-to back Big Ten matchups. And in their latest contest Thursday, the Wolverines tied Wisconsin at home.
While the team’s 9-3-2 record speaks to its depth and intensity as a program — averaging 0.95 goals per game and completing five shutouts — a seven-game winning streak followed by back-to-back losses and this unexpected tie raises questions. The Wolverines seem to have encountered a mid-season slump.
In addition, the weekend’s loss against Northwestern lost Michigan its top spot in the Big Ten as well, leaving it ranked third.
Yet the losses the team incurred on the road were both games in which they dominated possession. At Illinois, the Wolverines outshot their opponent 15-5, and at Northwestern the margin was almost the same at 17-6.
In contrast, on Thursday night, the shot count was remarkably low and not in Michigan’s favor at, at 7-6. Michigan coach Grey Ryan attributed the significant difference in Michigan’s stats to the loss of injured senior defender Anna Soccorsi.
“You never know how important a player is until they’re missing,” Ryan said. “Without Anna, it’s a real challenge for us to play with four (in the back). We tried and it just didn’t work. We had to switch to a different system and play with five … a very defensive shape.”
The formation change certainly slowed the Badgers, but it also limited the Wolverines to a highly defensive mindset, accounting for the noticeably reduced shot statistics.
Ryan conceded that the results against Wisconsin and Illinois were the all-too-likely symptoms of a winning season.
“I ask them what went wrong last week and they told me exactly what happened: We took it for granted, we didn’t roll up our sleeves and fight the way we’ve done at other games,” Ryan said. “I thought tonight, our kids fought really hard and we didn’t do that at Illinois, we didn’t do that in some key moments at Northwestern.”
Regardless of what the sudden lack of wins may look like on paper, it seems the recent events in the Wolverines’ record are more bumps in the road than signals of an all-out slump. In fact, after the two losses, the tie Thursday could turn out to be the start of a positive upswing that foreshadows the team’s collective drive to get back on track.
“We have a really good record at home. Although it’s not the win we wanted, we’ll take it and we’ll move forward,” said senior goalie Sarah Jackson.
Added Ryan: “We have about three games left. Getting the draw against Wisconsin was a huge positive step for us because everybody is going to take losses, everybody is going to get ties. This is our third week in a row of double games. … This is the longest, hardest stretch for us of the season and everything gets easier after this weekend. If we can just dig in and get a decent result (against Minnesota), we’re in great shape.”