Ten minutes into the second half of the Michigan men’s soccer team’s first ever home Big Ten Tournament game, star sophomore winger Jack Hallahan collected the ball on the edge of the 18-yard-box. The Wolverines were knotted at one with Northwestern. He took one look at goal before cutting onto his dangerous left foot and unleashing a ferocious curler within inches of both the post and crossbar, past the flailing Wildcat goalie.
The goal gave Michigan a 2-1 lead that it would not relinquish, eventually turning it into a 4-1 final to book its place in the conference semifinals for the first time since 2012. Part of that success can be attributed to Hallahan’s elevated play.
The game-winner was a piece of solo magic from Hallahan, but the rest of the Wolverines’ dominant performance came through a balanced attack that saw five players tally either a goal or an assist, including a second from Hallahan.
Leading this attack was junior striker Francis Atuahene, who scored the opening goal before assisting both of Hallahan’s. This combination has become crucial down the stretch for Michigan, as it was Hallahan’s inch-perfect cross that found Atuahene for his historic goal against Maryland last week to give Michigan its regular season conference title.
“They’re two talented young players. If we can get the ball to them in the right spots on the field,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley, “they can certainly make things happen on their own. But when they’re working collectively, they become a bigger danger to opponents.”
“In training, coaches put us together a lot,” Hallahan said, “ … We’ve built a really good bond on and off the field.”
For the Wolverines to continue their dream season, though, they will need continued contributions beyond these two stars. After all, their focus on working together has been what has put them in this position, and it is what they used to collect themselves and ensure a focused performance after a week of celebrating their first conference championship.
“We wanted them to enjoy it for a few days because they earned it but we wanted to get back down to business,” Daley said. “The foundation of our team was … about sticking together, working hard for each other, and competing for the team and competing for Michigan.”
This attitude shone through in Sunday’s match, as it was senior defender Billy Stevens — who had tallied just four assists in 69 previous career matches — assisted the opening goal. Junior defender Marcelo Borges followed up with his sixth career assist on Michigan’s third goal, which was scored by junior midfielder Robbie Mertz for his first conference goal since a Sept. 13 draw against Indiana.
Daley went beyond his goal-scorers to praise freshman midfielder Umar Farouk Osman for the team’s second-half turnaround.
“The game changed a little bit when Umar went in centrally,” Daley said. “Umar hasn’t got any goals this year but when he’s played centrally, he’s really made a lot of things happen and him stretching the field gives a lot of other guys opportunities. If three or four guys are cooking, you don’t know which one you’re gonna get.”
But while the Wolverines may boast a total-effort mentality, their success will ultimately come back to Hallahan, who scored his second from a nearly impossible angle in the final minutes to cap off the evening.
“When I cut in for the second goal, I saw the net open and I thought, ‘Why not try it?’” Hallahan said.
This willingness to try things, which the British Hallahan credits to his seven years in West Bromwich Albion’s youth academy, has helped him to his breakout season, in which he has scored seven goals to go along with seven assists — both team bests.
And with Hallahan leading a balanced attack, the Wolverines don’t look like settling for what they’ve already accomplished.