For the past few years, the Michigan men’s soccer team has been plagued by inconsistency.
Consider the 2013 campaign, when the Wolverines tied teams like Bowling Green and Oakland, yet defeated No. 12 Creighton.
Or just last year, when Michigan earned wins against No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 12 Michigan State but suffered losses against Bowling Green and Western Michigan.
Now, as the Wolverines (2-1-1) prepare to face Detroit on Wednesday, a familiar task is looming over them: defeating a respectable team in the wake of impressive performances against national powerhouses.
But for fifth-year senior forward Colin McAtee, the 2-1 overtime victory against Niagara on Sept. 6 convinced him this team is different from those of his past.
“Last year, we struggled in these games,” McAtee said. “(But against Niagara) we were relentless — we kept going and we didn’t disrespect them. We found a way to win. That was a big turning point, because that gives us the confidence that we can go into those games with the same mentality, and I don’t expect anything different this Wednesday against Detroit.”
The Titans (2-2-2) graduated just four players in 2014 after battling Michigan to a 0-0 tie in their matchup at U-M Soccer Stadium last year.
Defensively, the Wolverines will be forced to handle Detroit’s balanced attack, led by forward Tyler Moorman and midfielder Spiro Pliakos.
Moorman and Pliakos lead the team with three goals and three assists, respectively, but there is plenty of firepower behind them as well. Aside from the duo, the Titans have seven players who have contributed either an assist or goal this season.
Though sophomore defender Billy Stevens is a game-time decision after suffering a face injury at Maryland, the back line should still be capable of containing Detroit’s threats. Michigan has allowed just three goals this season, and sophomore Evan Louro will continue to anchor the Wolverines in net. The goalkeeper boasts a .718 save percentage and two clean sheets.
If necessary, Stevens would likely be replaced with freshman Marcello Borges.
On the opposite end of the pitch, Michigan is averaging more than one goal per game, led by freshman Francis Atuahene. After his hat trick against West Virginia, he leads the Big Ten in goals scored and is poised to wreak havoc against the Titans’ defense with his on-ball skill.
Though Atuahene has looked unstoppable when taking defenders one on one this year, Nathan Steinwascher — the 2014 Horizon League Goalkeeper of the Year — will be waiting for him when he finds scoring opportunities.
Of the obstacles the Wolverines have to overcome, Michigan coach Chaka Daley feels the greatest is their mindset.
“If we want to be a consistent program nationally, (we can’t) take any days off in preparation or approach,” Daley said. “Detroit is a tough team to play against. They have a different style and they have the personality of grinders. We have to dictate the game more than them.”
Following their game against Detroit, the Wolverines will host Northwestern for their Big Ten home opener on Sunday, at which there will be a ceremony commemorating 125 years of Michigan athletics. As a comparatively young program of 16 years, the ceremony will have a unique meaning for the Wolverines.
“Only being 16 years old, you get to look at it and dream of what you could be in 20, 30, 40 years when these guys come back and I’m a retired old man,” Daley said. “What you’re creating is that legacy. And certainly other sports have done that, with softball almost 40 years and football has 135 years.
“From that standpoint, it’s something you look at and try to emulate, and hope that you can bring that kind of prominence or recognition to your program one day.”