It was a slugfest.
At halftime of the Michigan men’s soccer team’s match against Detroit Mercy (3-7-1 overall, 0-2-1 Horizon), the Wolverines (6-2-3 overall, 2-0-2 Big Ten) had only registered one shot on goal in the scoreless tie. The Titans’ defense was suffocating Michigan, dropping almost everyone back to ensure they always had numbers on the defensive side.
Normally, in situations like these, the Wolverines would look to their main playmakers for offense — All-American senior forward Jack Hallahan or graduate transfer forward Nebojsa Popovic, both of whom have started every match.
Instead, the big play came from true freshman midfielder Harry Pithers. Facing pressure on the right sideline from a Detroit defender, he lobbed a masterfully placed cross to sophomore forward Derick Broche, who buried a header for the game’s lone goal. The assist was Pithers’ first point of his college career.
Still, Michigan’s 1-0 victory on Wednesday did not come easy, thanks to the Titans’ solid defense. Their conservative approach ceded time of possession to the Wolverines, but it allowed almost no space for their attackers to work with. Especially in the first half, the Detroit defenders filled the box and clogged up passing lanes, keeping Michigan from landing many quality shots and forcing offensive mistakes.
“We made a few tactical mistakes,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “ … Mistakes happen. We strive for perfection, but there’s always an error that can happen.”
The Titans kept up their defensive approach early in the second half, holding the Wolverines to only one shot in the first 25 minutes of the half. Even Michigan’s usual stars struggled to make plays — Hallahan failed to register a shot in the second half before he was subbed out in the 66th minute. Detroit’s excellent defense also showed itself on corners, as the Wolverines failed to convert on any of their 10 corner opportunities.
But as time ticked on, the talent gap became apparent, as Michigan managed to get behind the Titans’ back line, eventually culminating in Broche’s 74th-minute goal.
“I think it was an early cross,” Broche said. “Most of the time early in the game, we took a little too long, and they got a chance to get players back, but this time we got a good cross early from Harry Pithers, and luckily I was at the end of it.”
Though they only scored the one goal, the Wolverines’ offense was much more active late in the second half, tallying four shots in the final 20 minutes of the match. This was partially due to Detroit adopting a more aggressive approach to try and even out the score, but Michigan’s passing was still visibly smoother and cleaner in the closing minutes. Pithers, Broche and junior midfielder Carlos Tellez — who has only started one match this season — were all central to the Wolverines’ attack late in the match.
“We just needed a little bit of quality on service,” Daley said. “Because we were in the final third a lot in the second half.”
A little bit of quality on service is exactly what Pithers delivered.