Through the majority of Sunday’s game against Butler, the Michigan women’s soccer team played in the driver’s seat. It kept possession, found space in the midfield and generated a consistent attack.
But the ninth-ranked Wolverines’ (1-1) inability to convert on those opportunities against the Bulldogs (2-0) leaves them with familiar struggles to solve at the start the season. They thoroughly outshot Butler 18-7, including 6-3 on target, but ended up losing 1-0 in a game that their offense dominated.
“Butler is a very good team, they’re good tactically and I believe that they’ll do really well,” Michigan coach Jen Klein said. “And against a good team like that, you can’t think that ‘oh, it’s gonna be the next one. It’s gonna be the next one.’ At some point, we just have to have good composure and put one in the back of the net.”
To get to that point, Michigan showed plenty of improvement in its ability to generate consistent attacks. Whereas it generated just five shots against No. 20 Washington State on Thursday — all of which came in the first half — it fired ball after ball toward Butler goalkeeper Anna Pierce.
But that was largely the extent of the Wolverines’ threats. Pierce and the back line in front of her turned away the majority of opportunities, and she made a handful of premier saves to turn Michigan back empty-handed. From a breakaway threat by junior midfielder Kacey Lawrence to a crossbar-denied shot by senior forward Dani Wolfe, nothing found its way into the net.
For the Wolverines, the frustrating reality is little can be done to actually solve the problem, besides scoring. They can tell themselves to shoot sooner or place the ball better for their teammates, but their process is largely working by creating so many shots. Second-guessing their positive work could cause just as many woes.
Symptoms of overthinking even showed against the Bulldogs. In the game’s waning minutes, Lawrence and freshman forward Kali Burrell found the ball down low with no defenders guarding them. Eyeing acres of open net, both hesitated as they tried to mark who would shoot. In the end, the chance went from representing the game-tying goal to becoming another unsuccessful shot on the box score.
Ultimately, the team sees one way through its struggles:
“A couple bounces didn’t go our way, a little bit unlucky for us, but we can’t leave it up to them to set the tempo,” fifth year senior midfielder Meredith Haakenson said. “I thought there’s a lot of stuff that we can learn from, but from here on out, just keep getting 1% better every day.”
This situation isn’t foreign to Michigan early in the regular season. Last fall against Southern California, its veteran midfield thoroughly carved the Trojans and outchanced them 21-12, but it lost in heartbreaking, overtime fashion. The Wolverines leaned into their training and played aggressive — even hungry — on the ball, kickstarting a confidence that carried them to a Big Ten Championship and an Elite Eight appearance. Granted, many of that midfield’s graduating pillars have been replaced by a new guard, but they nonetheless find themselves in a similar situation with, perhaps, a similar path out.
It might seem like a cliche, especially on the tail end of a preventable loss, but they are largely doing the right thing with the ball. Missed opportunities only come when the offense succeeds in staging an attack.
They just need to bury those chances, and after a disheartening loss to Butler, that looks like the hardest part.